British Columbia

Increase 'prescribed burning' to prevent wildfires, says fire ecologist

A fire ecologist says the early start to the wildfire season in B.C. is a sign the province is not doing enough to prevent these fires.

'We should be doing tens of thousands of hectares in the spring and fall,' says Robert Gray

Wildfire burning near Fort St. John, B.C. (Darcy Shawchek/Facebook)

An ecologist says the early start to the wildfire season in B.C. is a sign the province is not doing enough to prevent these fires.

"We need to be finding some way to increase the pace and scale of prescribed burning," said Robert Gray, a fire ecologist who took part in an inquiry after the Okanagan wildfires of 2003. 

"We should be doing tens of thousands of hectares in the spring and fall versus thousands of hectares," he said.  

Prescribed burning refers to the practice of intentionally starting fires to renew vegetation and burn off dangerously dry or damaged areas.

Gray would also like to see more boots on the ground.  

"I've talked to people and they're still tired from last year. They're burnt out — a long fire season like that really takes it out of you." 

B.C.'s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources says the province is ready to battle wildfires this season.

"We are prepared. We have more than 1,400 firefighters and support staff who are available for the 2016 season," said Steve Thomson.

He added the province can call on contractors and contingency resources if needed.

Firefighters working on last year's Elaho Valley wildfire. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Saving money down the road

More prescribed burning and better policies could save the province money, according to Gray.

"The average cost per hectare around communities is anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 per hectare, that is just not sustainable." 

Gray wants to see more incentives for investing in bioenergy — turning wood waste into heat and electricity.

"Won't save money over night, but 10-to-20 years down the road, we will see big fires costing less money," he said. 

The province recently announced it will provide $85 million for a new wildfire risk reduction project.

With files from the CBC's The Early Edition and Elaine Chau.


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Increase 'prescribed burning' to prevent wildfires, says fire ecologist.

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