Wildfire burning down a hillside towards Williams Lake last summer which caused the community to be evacauted. Photo: Williams Lake Tribune

B.C. 2017 disaster report: Extreme weather here to stay

Report cites need to prepare for “the new normal”

A comprehensive report on the 2017 B.C. wildfires and floods has resulted in 108 recommendations on how the province can better adapt to climate change.

But to what extent the report’s findings impact the 2018 fire and flood season may be limited.

“I think modestly at least we may be better prepared this year,” said George Abbott, a co-author along with Sto:lo Nation Chief Maureen Chapman of the report, titled “Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia.”

“But we are still much more vulnerable than we should be and it will take substantial investment to raise our game on the (wildfire and flooding) prevention side. I salute what government has done and is doing so far through its own internal review process, but I think the magnitude of the challenge before us shows there is a significant way to go yet.”

Related: No way to prevent 2017 spring flooding

Chapman and Abbott spoke to the media in Victoria on Wednesday in releasing their long-awaited report, particularly for many Okanagan communities and the Okanagan Basin Water Board hoping to see greater emphasis placed on government funding for longer-term preventative fire and flood measures.

The report’s recommendations hit on a variety of themes: Working better on preparedness and planning with Indigenous governments and communities; forming more strategic partnerships with ranchers, farmers, communities, logging contractors and Indigenous people in fighting fires; greater long-term preventative fire and flood land management initiatives; and adopting an aggressive wildfire suppression prescribed burning program.

Related: B.C braces for another summer of floods and fires

Chapman said it’s should be “all hands on deck” when forest fires occur, where all available equipment and manpower resources can be marshalled to assist in a firefighting effort, coordinated in advance through establishing those strategic partnerships.

Water bombers spray retardant over forest fire that erupted in Lake Country last summer. Photo: Lake Country Calendar files

She said that happened in the Cariboo in 2017 out of necessity because of the volume of fires. “Last summer, some people took that initiative on their own, without permission, and were able to be successful holding smaller fires at bay until the wildfire personnel were able to reach the scene, sometimes days later. We need to start thinking outside the box and remove those boxes.”

Abbott, a retired former Liberal MLA and cabinet minister from the North Okanagan, said their report revisited ideas that evolved from the Filmon Report compiled by the former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon in the aftermath of the Okanagan Mountain 2003 wildfire that were never acted upon, particularly regarding fire prevention measures.

“We need to start seeing more selective tree harvesting adjacent to communities, greater utilization of fibres now regarded as waste, more prescribed burning at interface and landscape levels…we need realize that forest fires have shaped our eco-system for thousands of years across our province…and prescribed burning is one of the tools in our toolkit.”

Related: Preparing for weather events in Okanagan communities

Abbott pointed to one day last summer, July 7, when 170 lightning strikes hit the Cariboo region starting 160 forest fires as a consequence.

“That was well beyond the capacity of BC Wildfire Service to respond to, way too many fires. But as bad as that was it could have been so much worse.”

He was referring to the record drought being experienced in the South Okanagan at that time.

“It was remarkably fortunate the lightning strikes we saw in the Cariboo did not occur in the South Okanagan during the same period. It would have been an overwhelming situation. I’m not sure how we would have managed that.”

Communication and the spreading of misinformation on social media was another issue addressed by Abbott and Chapman, as they called for development of a central hub or “one-stop shop” emergency communication website to provide the public with “reliable, responsive, adaptive, real-time an customer-focused information.”

“For most people, their home and property is their life investment and naturally they want to know what is going on after they are evacuated. There are ways we can up our game in that area. There were some pretty gripping stories we heard about people from Cache Creek hearing their community was being looted and that Ashcroft had burned to the ground,” Abbott said.

Doug Donaldson, B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said the full breadth of the report’s recommendations will take time to be considered, saying a response and cost analysis will be produced by his ministry Oct. 31.

Donaldson noted 19 of the recommendations have already been implemented through his ministry’s internal review of how it handled the 2017 wildfire and flood season was managed, and that his government has pledged $50 million over the next three years on wildfire prevention and risk reduction around communities.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@BarryGerding
barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Construction to begin soon on medical pot plant and council approves work camp for crew

BC Green Pharmaceuticals will establish a work camp in the Princeton Industrial… Continue reading

Open burning permitted again in Kamloops Fire Centre

Low fire rating prompts decision throughout Kamloops Fire Centre

B.C. Rural Party co-founder rebukes pro-NDP accusation

Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen disputes being NDP campaign supporter

COLUMN: From pot to policing

I am sure the cannabis legalization on Oct 17 will be the number one issue on everyone’s minds

South Okanagan Indo-Canadian pledge for hospital expansion recieves large boost

Jaswinder Garib has donated $30,000 to the $500,000 pledge

Your morning news in 90: Sept. 19, 2018

Tune in for 90 seconds to get the top headlines for the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen.

B.C. woman facing animal cruelty charges after emaciated dog seized

Kira, a Rottweiler, had kidney and bladder infections

Kim agrees to dismantle main nuke site if US takes steps too

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon.

Dozens speak at Vancouver hearing that could see duplexes replace single homes

The city clerk says 73 people signed up to speak at the hearing that began early Tuesday evening and adjourned hours later with 34 speakers still waiting.

North Carolina gov pleads with storm evacuees to be patient

The death toll rose to at least 37 in three states Tuesday, with 27 fatalities in North Carolina.

North and South Korea say they plan to bid for 2032 Olympics

Moon and Kim announced a sweeping set of agreements including a vow to work together to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

Russia’s reinstatement after doping scandal goes to a vote

The World Anti-Doping Agency is due to vote Thursday Sept. 20, 2018, on possible reinstatement of Russia.

Ontario wins stay on ruling that struck down council-cutting plan

The province had argued the stay was necessary to eliminate uncertainty surrounding the Oct. 22 vote, and the Court of Appeal agreed.

B.C. cannabis producer Tilray hits at $20-billion high as stock price explodes

This is the first export of a cannabis product from a Canadian company to the U.S.

Most Read