British Columbia

B.C. launches $5-million research chair to study wildfires

The B.C. government has established a new research chair at Thompson Rivers University to help better forecast, prevent and respond to wildfire emergencies in the province.

Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops chosen for the research

A Coastal Fire Centre crew leader views the Boulder Creek fire near Pemberton, B.C., in July 2015. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Reuters)

A university located in the heart of one of British Columbia's most volatile forest fire regions will lead new research in wildfire prediction and response.

Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops was chosen for the research that will improve abilities to forecast, prevent and respond to wildfire emergencies, Forest Minister Doug Donaldson said Thursday.

"Interior communities have worked together to advocate for additional research and capacity to help better understand wildfires, in order to protect their residents, infrastructure, and economies," said Donaldson. "We're answering the call to action with this research position."

He says the B.C. government will contribute $5 million to fund the B.C. Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science.

Donaldson says the Kamloops campus is located near the operational centres of Emergency Management B.C. and the B.C. Wildfire Service, and is supported by high-speed fibre optic connections and key transportation routes.

Tinder dry weather, wind, and dry lightning caused fires to spread aggressively in the province during the 2017 fire season. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

University president Brett Fairburn says the endowment allows the university to conduct leading research in wildfire modelling and to explore the relationship between climate change and the impacts on risk of wildfires.

"With the climate emergency we see bigger fires, the fuel loads [are] different, the drying out conditions are different as the weather patterns change, so all that modelling and predictive research is extremely important for us to know where to deploy crews," said Donaldson. 

B.C.'s Interior was the scene of record-breaking wildfires in 2017 and 2018, forcing community evacuations, destroying homes, forests and ranges and costing the province more than $1.2 billion.

Increased funding for wildland fire research was a recommendation of a 2018 report following the damaging effects of the 2017 flood and wildfire seasons. 

An appointment to the research chair is expected later this year. 

With files from CBC News


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