In the heart of B.C.’s beetle zone, the Cariboo Fire Centre covers an area of about 10.3 million hectares divided into three zones: Central Cariboo, Quesnel, and 100 Mile House. Headquartered in Williams Lake, it is one of six provincial wildland fire centres operated by the world-renowned B.C. Forest Service Wildfire Management Branch. Special thanks to Emily Epp, Fire Information Officer at the Cariboo Fire Centre, for taking the time to answer seven questions:
- In consideration of the low snow pack that is being reported in the mountains this year, does this increase the risk factor for wildfires this summer?
Snow pack levels are one means of forecasting whether we’ll see an early or late start to the fire season. However, they aren’t a good indicator of how intense the season will be. More relevant indicators are precipitation levels and drying patterns as we move into summer. The nature of the fire season will ultimately depend on the arrival (or absence) of the “June rains”.
- What steps, if any, are being taken in advance preparation for this summer’s fire season?
Throughout the spring and early summer, Wildfire Management Branch personnel focus on training and preparation for that upcoming fire season. Our fire fighters are highly skilled and trained to fight wildfires. Resources are positioned throughout the province in readiness for any level of fire activity that the season may bring.
- Are there specific areas that pose greater than normal or heightened risk for wildfires this season?
The Fire Danger Rating is currently “Moderate” across most of B.C., with scattered areas of “High” in north, central, and southern B.C. The current long-term outlook for the summer indicates a potential for higher-than-normal temperatures. However, warmer than normal conditions alone are not necessarily an indicator of an intense fire season. While long term weather models may indicate trends over time, they cannot reliably forecast more than a few days in advance. We maintain our levels of preparedness by studying forecasts which will give us a good idea of what to expect in the short term. For looking more than a few days into the future, these forecasts have a diminished level of reliability.
- Is beetle-killed timber exacerbating the threat or risks this season?
Recent wildfire observations over the past few fire seasons (2006-2011) have confirmed aggressive fire behaviour in MPB-affected forests. More information is being collected to validate potential and expected fire behaviour across a range of MPB-attacked forest fuel classes. The Wildfire Management Branch is working with communities, local governments, and First Nations to implement community wildfire protection plans in MPB-affected forests to address fire safety issues from the provincial MPB infestation.
- Are there any indications of industry taking any special steps in preparing for this fire season?
By law, forest licensees are required to have hazard abatement plans in place and necessary wildfire suppression equipment on hand when working in the forest.
- What kind of budgets are in place for fighting anticipated fires this season? How does this compare with recent years? Is the number mentioned adequate in your opinion?
For budgeting purposes, the government of B.C. has allocated $63 million in Direct Fire for the 2015/2016 fire season. When actual costs exceed the Direct Fire budget allocation, the Wildfire Management Branch has statutory authorization to receive additional funds. In the past 10 fiscal years (2005/09 to 2014/15), net Direct Fire costs have ranged from a low of $47 million in 2005/06 to a record high of $382 million in 2009/10. In fiscal year 2014/2015, WMB spent almost $298 million. It’s difficult to forecast wildfire suppression costs as each season varies significantly depending on weather conditions and the number and severity of wildfires that we respond to. The province will always spend what’s necessary to protect people and property.
- Are there other resources (equipment, personnel) that are being added this year? Are such resources in place now?
This fact sheet details the resources the province has in place to fight wildfires this year: