Controlling fuel, improving evacuation procedures among recommendations
With the impact of wildfires on the province in the summer of 2003 still fresh on everyones minds, last Friday the B.C. government released the results of a comprehensive review of the causes of and responses to the crisis.
The 2003 Firestorm Provincial Review, which was chaired by former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon, also goes one step further by offering recommendations as to how the province, local governments and organizations can work to prevent forest fires in the future.
More than 2,500 wildfires were recorded last summer, mainly in the drought- and pine beetle-stricken Interior of the province. The fires destroyed 334 homes, several businesses, and forced the evacuation of more than 45,000 people. The cost to the province is estimated to be in the $700 million range.
Although most residents were kept safe, three pilots died battling the blazes.
The review, which was commissioned in October of 2003, covers forest management practices, emergency preparedness and planning, firefighting, the operation of emergency centres, evacuations, resettlement and post-emergency recovery. Its a hefty document that weighs in at 100 pages, with data and opinions mined from more than 400 individuals and organizations involved with the issue.
The review also touches on the issue of interface fires, which mainly occur in subdivisions that were built in the woods for aesthetic reasons.
After looking at the causes and the emergency response, Filmons review made dozens of recommendations including:
Identifying areas where communities, infrastructure and watersheds are more likely to be impacted by large-scale fires, and establish fuel management priorities (strategic logging, controlled burns) for human life, property and resource values;
Require communities at risk to develop comprehensive protection plans and emergency plans;
Municipalities in fire prone areas should adopt FireSmart standards for both private and public property, including building codes that are safer from a fire perspective. The insurance industry should encourage and reward these initiatives. At the very least, says Filmon, the standards should be applied to all new subdivision developments;
The province should review and amend existing land use plans to incorporate fire management;
Reduce the buildup of fuel in parks through selective tree harvesting;
Use prescribed burning to manage fuel in parks and wild areas;
"Deal" with slash in areas that are adjacent to urban areas, burning or removing materials to mitigate the surface fuel hazard;
Amend the Annual Allowable Cut in fire-prone timber supply areas;
Look at alternatives to stumpage rates to encourage selective tree harvesting while researching uses for small diameter trees;