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Why the BC gov't sets its annual wildfire budget so low and then burns through it

Fire activity in the Bald Mountain area in August, 2017. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service via Twitter)

The government feels it's prepared for this year's wildfire season after BC set a record in 2017

Victoria explains how it's trying to improve things as crews prepared for a potentially busy fire season

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Last year marked the worst wildfire season on record in BC, so does the provincial government have the money needed to fight what could potentially be another busy fire season?

Every year the government lowballs how much funding is set aside to fight fires and it tends to always burn through its budget. This year’s budget is just shy of $64 million while last year Victoria spent more than eight times that amount.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson tells NEWS 1130 there’s a reason for that.

“We look on a 10-year average and last year, obviously, was a really abnormal year, it was over $600 million in direct firefighting costs. We just want to make sure the public knows that when there is need for financial resources, they’ll be there to fight the fires and last year was a good example of that. The money is there, it’s put in the budget to hold a place and to have a 10-year average, but if extra resources are required we make sure they get to the people who need them for sure.”

He adds the “fire situation” in BC has increased over the last several years, while other provinces, like Alberta, are seeing a downward trend and Donaldson says using the 10-year average method works for the government.

“We want to make sure that we’re reflecting those costs in the budget, but again, as needed the funds will be there for fighting the fires and making sure that people and property are the first and foremost to protect.”

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Donaldson feels the province and firefighters were ready to handle last year’s wildfire season, pointing out no one died, despite dozens of homes and properties being lost and as 1.2 million hectares of land was scorched.

Hoping we don’t see a repeat of last summer, Donaldson stresses crews are prepared right now to be deployed if things intensify and help could also be here in a moment’s notice.

“We have a mutual agreement to the Canadian Wildfire Service Centre in Winnipeg when we need to draw on other resources and other provinces as well as throughout North America and around the world. Yes, we have been in touch with other provinces. If we need to access [Alberta’s] crews and their air tankers, we have that capacity at our hands as well.”

Earlier this year an independent review of BC’s response to last year’s wildfires and flooding was done and issued 108 recommendations of ways to improve things.

Donaldson says they’ve already implemented 19 of the recommendations including better communication, which some people affected last year, felt there wasn’t enough of on a government level.

“Some of the things we have done differently is we’ve made sure we have more contract crews available in case they’re needed. We’ve also improved communications between ourselves and local government and First Nations and in doing that over the course of the spring and as well incorporating local knowledge into fighting fires in local terrain by improving relationships with local people.”

The BC NDP government previously confirmed it would introduce its complete forest and flood action plan by Oct. 31 of this year.

Floods and the more than 1,300 wildfires in BC last year displaced 65,000 people.