The 2017 B.C. wildfire season burned a record area, and revealed gaps in preparation for communities. (Black Press files)

B.C. braces for another year of floods and fires

First Nations partnerships, fuel management need work, report says

An independent review of B.C.’s record 2017 fire and flood season has recommended improving the emergency management network with local communities and shifting land management to prepare better for fire.

With flooding already underway in parts of B.C. after a second winter of heavy snow, the review found that large areas of the province lack flood plain maps, or have maps that are out of date due to weather and terrain shifts.

With wildfires, traditional forest management that preserves logging-free views along highways and around communities has been found to increase risk when fires take place. Recommendations include making fire prevention a principle of land management, and establishing area-based forest tenures around communities that don’t have community forests they can manage themselves.

The review was conducted by former forests and Indigenous relations minister George Abbott and Sto:lo Nation Chief Maureen Chapman, appointed by Premier John Horgan after last year’s record season.

Abbott noted that last year’s fire season started on July 7, with a lightning storm in the Cariboo after a long dry spring that started 160 fires in a single day. A similar storm in the Okanagan would have had similar results, and luck spared the region that was severely affected by the fires of 2003, he said.

The large-scale evacuations of communities led to 62,000 people applying for emergency social assistance, using a system that was set up to respond to house fires and similar emergencies. One of the recommendations is to replace the paper-based payment system with electronic registration and payment.

In touring the fire-affected regions, Chapman said she heard “absolute frustration and hopelessness” from First Nations communities about a lack of communication with the provincial emergency system. In some cases, communities weren’t given provincial permission to use the equipment they had.

“Some of the First Nations communities went ahead and did it anyway, without permission,” Chapman said. “There are no reserve lands when a fire or a flood is coming at you.”

B.C. Liberal forest critic John Rustad, who was minister for last year’s floods and part of the record wildfire season, said he’s encouraged by the findings of the report.

One recommendation he said he will be asking Donaldson about is the suggestion of additional carbon tax to pay for disaster preparation.

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