British Columbia

Cost of fighting B.C. wildfires tops $500M so far this year, says premier

B.C.'s wildfire budget was set at $136 million and John Horgan says the province needs to change how it prepares for wildfire season.

Costs over three-times the $136M budgeted for wildfires so far this year

Osoyoos Lake wildfires in British Columbia on July 22, 2021. (Alexandre Lepoutre/CBC/Radio-Canada)

John Horgan said British Columbia will spend half a billion dollars or more fighting wildfires this year, well over three times what was budgeted.

The premier made the comments while speaking in Logan Lake, a town that had to be evacuated early this month when the Tremont Creek wildfire came within dangerous range.

"We are going to spend, so far, I think it's half a billion dollars, on firefighting in this calendar year and we're still in August. And there is more to do and there will be more resources spent," said Horgan.

B.C.'s 2021 wildfire budget was set at $136 million.

Last year, the province spent $193.7 million fighting wildfires. In 2017, the worst fire season on record, the province spent $649 million.

Horgan said the province intends to change how it budgets for wildfires to better fund fire prevention and a 12-month-a-year approach. 

"The way we have fought fires in B.C. historically going back many, many years is there's a notional amount of money in the budget, and if you overspend that, you just find it through contingencies," he said.

"If we have resources at the front end of the year, B.C. Wildfire Service can retain people to do the work, to assist with Fire Smart, to ... create guards around those interface communities," he said. 

Damaged structures and vehicles are seen in Lytton, B.C., on Friday, July 9, 2021, after a wildfire destroyed most of the village on June 30. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Since April 1, there have been 1,552 wildfires in the province with 864,473 hectares of area burned.

The number of wildfires burning as of Friday had dropped to 238, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service, thanks to cooler temperatures and rain. The number of firefighters and other personnel currently fighting wildfires is 3,238.

The provincial state of emergency relating to wildfires is set to expire Sep. 1. Horgan said officials will be meeting to decide whether it needs to be extended. 

Thirty-five evacuation orders remain in place affecting 3,500 properties, all located in the central region of the province. Another 7,700 properties are under evacuation alert, meaning residents have to be ready to leave at a moments notice should the local wildfire situation worsen.

The state of emergency ensures federal, provincial and local resources are co-ordinated to help those who suffer losses or have to evacuate due to wildfire.

Horgan told reporters his government has learned a great deal from this year's fire season which saw the village of Lytton devastated, dozens more properties burned and thousands of people forced out of their homes.

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