A federal-provincial cost-sharing agreement that will provide the BC Wildfire Service $64 million over five years is allowing the public safety agency to become a year-round service.
In response to climate change that has contributed to hotter, drier summers that have increased the length and severity of B.C’s annual fire seasons and a rising incidence of more extreme and unpredictable weather events, the province has increased its wildfire budgets the past two years to make the BCWS more proactive and less reactive.
“Given these trends, BCWS is strengthening its approach to wildfire prevention, wildfire management and year-round all-hazard response,” said BCWS information officer Alex Lane.
“For 2023, BCWS is reconfiguring and expanding crews and working to ensure they have the necessary training and skills for wildfire and all-hazard response. BCWS is also working to advance predictive services, improve technological efficiencies, build internal capacity, increase local capacity and expand our critical infrastructure to meet these changing needs.”
In total, the BCWS has added 149 new crew positions. The provincial force includes 149 initial attack crews to keep small fires contained, 30 unit crews for sustained action on larger fires with 65 fire crew supervisors. Fire crew supervisors are being transitioned to full-time, year-round duty. An additional 70 firefighters are being added to reconfigure 100 initial attack crews as four-person crews to meet national standards.
The Prince George Fire Centre (PGFC) has four unit crews, 38 initial attack crews and 101 support staff including operations staff and dispatchers. Eighteen of PGFC's initial attack crews are specialized parattack crews (trained to parachute from fixed-wing aircraft to access difficult-to-reach fires) based in Fort. St. John and Mackenzie.
According to Lane, additional support for the PGFC's seven fire zones will be hired over the next several months with most of those positions filled by existing seasonal staff. The PGFC coordination centre will also increase its year-round workforce over the next year.
Last year’s fire season started late, due to a cool and wet spring, but it lasted well into October, fed by above-seasonal temperatures that lasted late into the fall. The Prince George Fire Centre had 248 wildfires that burned 58,115 hectares of the 133,346 ha total area burnt in the province.
There were 17 wildfires of note in 2022, none as devastating as the Lytton Creek fire during a record-setting heat wave in the early summer of 2021 that killed two residents and destroyed much of the town of Lytton.