B.C.’s premier says the province will develop “a 12-month-a-year approach” to be better prepared to fight wildfires following a 2021 fire season that has, to this point, cost taxpayers half a billion dollars.
John Horgan was in Logan Lake on Friday, meeting with local officials and residents less than two weeks after the Tremont Creek fire nearly devastated the community.
Speaking to reporters, Horgan hinted at big changes to come in how wildfires are fought in B.C.
“We have had in 2017, 2018 and now 2021, three of the worst fire seasons in B.C. history,” he said, referring to this summer as a “horrific” in terms of wildfires.
“We need to make sure that we do have a committed program across the province.”
Horgan said the wildfire fight in B.C. has typically been funded largely through contingency — meaning a nominal amount is budgeted for a given year, then overruns for busy fire seasons are paid for by finding money elsewhere in the budget.
He said he wants that to change.
“If we have resources at the front end of the year, the BC Wildfire Service can retain people to assist with FireSmart, can create guards around those interface communities,” he said.
“That’s got to be the way we go forward."
Horgan toured Logan Lake on Friday with Mayor Robin Smith and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy.
Logan Lake was evacuated on Aug. 12. Two days later, on Aug. 14, the Tremont Creek fire burned into Logan Lake’s municipal limits, but no structures were lost after firefighters worked throughout the night to fight the flames.
Residents were allowed to return home late last week and received the all clear on Wednesday.
Horgan said budget planning for 2022 is now taking place, and more spending for the BC Wildfire Service is high on the list of priorities.
“We’ll make sure we’re better prepared — as best prepared as we can be,” he said, noting about $500 million has been spent on the fire fight in B.C. so far this year.
"We’re going to bring forward a submission to government so that we can focus on a 12-month-a-year approach to make sure our communities are safe.”
Horgan also said wildfire officials are keen to work with B.C.’s First Nations. He mentioned a discussion with Okanagan Indian Band leaders on Thursday about traditional prescribed burning.
“We’ve raised these issues with BC Wildfire Service,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at every tool at our disposal going forward.”