Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter delivers personnel and equipment to 2017 B.C. wildfire effort. (Canadian Forces)

Ottawa agrees to send B.C. help in wildfire battle

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Calling it an “urgent situation,” B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth ‘s call for federal assistance with wildfire control was greeted with approval.

The request sent Monday for 200 personnel who can work independently in the back country, plus aircraft for equipment delivery and possible emergency evacuation flights, was soon answered by federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

Canadian Army and Air Force units were called in last summer and the call has gone out again, with evacuation orders affecting more than 3,000 people and another 43 alerts in place around the province.

Due to the increase in the number of wildfires affecting communities and the extreme wildfire behaviour we’re seeing, we’re asking for federal assistance for additional resources that may be needed to protect the public, property and infrastructure,” Farnworth said.

Farnworth said the request is for “200 self-contained personnel who are able to stay out in the bush for quite some time, whose job it would be to mop up and control the fire zones on those fires that have been contained.

“That will help free up additional resources here in B.C.,” Farnworth said. “We’ve also asked for additional heavy lifting aircraft to be able to move heavy equipment to where it’s needed, as well as the potential of emergency aircraft to assist in evacuations from remote communities.”

B.C. has 3,400 wildfire personnel working on 600 fires across the province, including contractors, municipal firefighters, forest industry personnel and out-of-province crews from across Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Farnworth said while the total area affected is about one quarter what B.C. faced last year, the number of fires is above the 10-year average. “Last year there were fewer fires, but they were vastly larger than what we’re seeing today,” he said.

B.C. has spent about $207 million so far on the fire season, substantially less than last year’s record season.

“One of the big impacts in terms of costs last year that we have not faced to date this year has been the evacuation and housing of people and all of the resources that went into ensuring that their needs are met,” Farnworth said.

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