B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter works on perimeter of a fire, July 2019. (B.C. government)

Prescribed burns on hold as B.C. prepares for COVID-19 wildfire season

More air tankers, smaller camps as season off to slow start

The B.C. Wildfire Service is gearing up for the summer season with COVID-19 restrictions, including smaller wildfire camps and single-occupancy tents for firefighters in the field.

B.C.’s 2020 wildfire season is off to a slower than average start, with 132 fires identified as of May 21, five currently burning and all under control. The 10-year average for this time of year is 172 fires.

B.C. is proceeding with its fire prevention and fuel management program, but prescribed burns are not being done due to air quality restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Most open burning has been prohibited since April 16 as part of COVID-19 public health restrictions, except for campfires that are less than half a metre in width and height.

“Some of the interface work doesn’t require burning, and that’s proceeding,” Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said. “I visited one of those interface sites just outside Kelowna’s boundaries, where the number of stems per hectare has been reduced significantly. There are all sorts of side benefits to wildlife, to recreation to making some of the logs available to local mills.”

RELATED: Scientists predict high fire risk for Western Canada

RELATED: 2017 Elephant Hill fire likely caused by smoking

As with industrial camps and activities, B.C. Wildfire Service is subject to restrictions imposed by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Those include restrictions on vehicle and aircraft occupancy, and the burning restrictions.

“Some of our prescribed burning program, which is a very robust three-year, $30 million program that we’re just starting into, may be adapted because of the provincial health officer guidelines around high-risk areas for smoke,” Donaldson said. “That impacts people who already have respiratory illnesses and are susceptible to the symptoms of COVID-19 as well as general population at higher risk.”

Jody Lucius, superintendent for communications with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said wildfire camps will restrict their interaction with local communities when they are set up to fight fires. Smaller, five-person camps will also be used to reduce the size and crowding of traditional fire camps.

“We’ve also moved away from the use of multi-person tents,” Lucius said. “We’re going to single tents only. We did introduce some crew camp kits that will allow some crews to work and live on their own outside of a fire camp, and that will help support smaller fire camps.”

B.C. has increased its air capacity for wildfire fighting this year, with 15 per cent more capacity for dropping fire retardant and 150 per cent more water skimmer capacity, Donaldson said. That includes 20 Fire Boss skimmer aircraft and 20 spotter aircraft, as well as a pair of four-engine Avro RJ85 jets with capacity for 11,000 litres.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturebc wildfiresCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nelson’s SMRT1 Technologies to provide vending tech to Vancouver company

UpMeals will launch 22 machines across Canada using SMRT1’s personalized machines

July Kootenay real estate sales at record high

Sales and prices of Kootenay real estate on the rise

Kaslo council says it was overlooked in long-term care announcement

“We’re fed up … They have ignored every attempt we’ve made to contact them”

Kaslo 2.0: Effort to take the village’s local government online advances

The first step if approved would be setting up a Kaslo Health Hub

No charges yet in death of Abbotsford officer Allan Young

Police and Crown say the investigation is still underway

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

B.C. wildfire crews have battled 111 blazes in the last seven days

Twenty-nine fires remain active, as of Friday (Aug 7)

‘We don’t make the rules’: Okanagan pub owner says staff harassed over pandemic precautions

‘If you have six people plus a baby, guess what? That’s seven’ - West Kelowna Kelly O’Bryan’s owner

T-Rex earns big bids at B.C. dino auction

Over 500 dino-themed lots sold to buyers from across North America

Most Read