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Posted: September 3, 2023

National and local wildfire firefighting forces needed

e-KNOW Editorial – By Ian Cobb

Canada and British Columbia are experiencing the worst wildfire season (as summer should now be known) in history.

About 15.2 million hectares of forest has been burned so far in Canada, including 1.6 million ha in B.C. And that figure continues to grow.

Every corner of the province has experienced wildfires, evacuation alerts and orders and hundreds of British Columbians have lost homes and livelihoods in this year’s fires, from West Kelowna and Westside Road communities, Westbank First Nation, communities in the Shuswap and right here at home, with seven homes lost in ʔaq’am from the St. Mary’s River Wildfire.

Fear of wildfire devastating communities kicked into gear in 2003 when the province experienced an explosive and terrifying wake-up call.

Since then the concept of FireSmart has become far better understood by the wider population and practiced by many local governments.

The City of Cranbrook has taken a bullish approach to safe-guarding some approaches to the city through thinning programs and as a Gold Creek resident, I am more than thankful for that work.

I’ve noted it before but it bears repeating: the majority of B.C. municipalities and communities are islands surrounded by a sea of forest. Great portions of Canada are the same.

While fire-guarding towns now seems a must, what is also a few years past due is consideration of a national wildfire fighting force. I am not in any way suggesting ‘replacing’ BC Wildfire Service (BCWS). Not at all.

BCWS, which has done a stellar job this year and deserve our heartiest thanks, should receive greater funding and support. That’s a no-brainer.

However, every province should pony up a given sum and the federal government should match or double that figure and a national firefighting force should be established at logistically important locations across the nation.

Such a force would need to be able to move quickly to nearby provinces as needed.

There should be strategically located air-bases with a much more beefed up arsenal of heavy, medium and light bombers.

B.C. alone should have six or seven, for example in Cranbrook, Penticton, Kamloops, Lower Mainland, Nanaimo, Dawson Creek and Prince George.

With all this would come years of planning and massive expense. Knowing our often flaccid federal government, it would carve into military spending or some other area, leaving Canada weaker and more vulnerable to international threat as a result.

This needs to be new spending. It means all Canadians have to dig a little deeper. If we don’t, many of us won’t be able to insure our homes and properties in a few years. Some are finding it tough now.

Another must moving forward is the establishment of local volunteer firefighting teams, trained and able to step in and back-up BC Wildfire Service at a moment’s notice.

This notion gained more than steam in the Shuswap in the past few weeks.

The old adage, if you want a job done right, do it yourself could SERIOUSLY apply in B.C. – a province rich with experienced forestry professionals and woods-savvy residents.

Schools could also begin teaching children about FireSmart and what they can do to help keep their homes and neighbourhoods safe.

If we do not take such steps, we will watch helplessly again next fire season as communities in our province must be evacuated and face horrifying carnage. Perhaps even ours.

This is not a matter of having to come together to fight climate change. That battle will continue to rage, unfortunately.

This is a matter of world war scale need for non-partisan cooperation in order to prepare ourselves for what is now bloody obvious; wildfires are going to continue burning across our landscape, taking whatever lies in their paths – every year.

There are immediate and important follow-through steps we can take to reduce the chances of apocalyptic scenarios and massive suffering.

It’s time to put our heads together and sort this out.

– Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW

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