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Posted: July 2, 2021

Time for a major wildfire fighting force

e-KNOW Editorial

By Ian Cobb

British Columbians are in a state of shock following the June 30 wildfire that destroyed about 90% of the Village of Lytton and killed at least two people, with more still unaccounted for.

After ‘celebrating’ three straight days of record setting heat, with Lytton recording temperatures apparently hotter than Las Vegas has ever reached, the village of about 250 souls burned to the ground.

It’s been reported that residents had only 20 minutes to flee before it was too late.

Thoughts and prayers are flying from the hearts and minds of all British Columbians because we all realize, especially those of us in rural areas, that what happened in Lytton could happen in our own communities.

Each community in the East Kootenay is an island in a sea of forest that is under increasingly more threat from wildfire as summers grow hotter and dryer.

In 2016 the City of Fort McMurray was nearly destroyed by Alberta’s largest ever wildfire. By the time the three-month long fire was brought under control it had grown to 589,552 hectares in size, burned 3,244 buildings, forced about 88,000 people to evacuate and cost $9.9 in damages, making it Canada’s most expensive disaster.

Countless times in British Columbia, forest-island communities have been spared disaster by the heroic efforts of our small and lightly equipped BC Wildfire Service firefighting teams.

Cranbrook and Kelowna came close in 2003; Kimberley in 2018; Canal Flats in 1985. And every community has had countless big scares tamped down by rapid attacks from local fire departments, BC Wildfire Service and neighbours.

Luck, skill and pluck can be credited for a mind-bogglingly large number of near misses the past few decades.

Today (July 2) in B.C., wildfires are threatening Castlegar, Kamloops, Lillooet and Bridge River. In just the past week, 185 new fires have been reported and attacked by BC Wildfire Service, with 69 in the past two days alone. Summer is just getting started.

Are you ready to breathe heavy volumes of smoke again? With what B.C. produces, as well as Alberta and all the nearby U.S. states south of us, it seems we are destined to suck thick particulate once again.

Are you prepared to flee in a moment’s notice? Seriously think about it.

This is now life for British Columbians and most Canadians and Americans living in forested or semi-forested areas.

Paradise, California (about the size of Cranbrook) is now mostly a memory as it and other small neighbouring communities were wiped out in 2018. The Camp Fire killed about 86 people.

As we’ve seen with Lytton, that can and does happen here.

So what do we do?

For starters, listen when government agencies focused on fighting wildfires provide valuable information. The more informed we are, by agencies sufficiently funded and staffed, the more lives will be saved.

But there is much, much more that has to be done and it will cost a bloody fortune.

It is time B.C., Canada and the USA combined to create a much larger wildfire fighting force that works together across borders to smash down the fires that threatened to grow into Fort Mac-sized monsters.

There needs to be a massive injection of funds into BC Wildfire Service so it can establish far greater response resources.

For example, how about more air bases strategically located around the province, with a wealth of water bombers on stand-by and larger, better out-fitted ground crews, with more heavy equipment at their disposal?

Yes, it would cost a massive amount of money but isn’t that a better alternative than the loss of entire cities?

It would also provide job creation.

Again, I am not trying to be disparaging to those working in the Southeast Fire Centre or BC Wildfire Centre. We are damned lucky to have these folks working for us and they do a smashing job.

They are also under-manned and equipped to face the challenges that seem to grow greater by the year. Isn’t it time we made their lives easier and safer?

Seeing as how our current federal government loves chucking money around when it makes them look good, it is high time it sat down with provincial governments and considered providing large injections of taxpayer money for upgrading manpower and resources, as well as consider establishing a joint task force that works together to add even more firepower when the big fires get roaring.

Add the Americans to the discussion too.

There is current cooperation between provinces and states, personified by the sharing of manpower and gear every year but those are higgledy-piggledy efforts.

By recognizing the fact that wildfire seasons are getting worse everywhere, every year, and by ensuring the resources are in place to formulate the heavy attack plans needed to take on these larger monsters, we will all be better off.

And we will all breathe a little easier, even if we bear the cost out of taxpayer pockets.

Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW

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