Wildfire report author says heat dome highlights need for new plans in wildfire fight
One of the authors of a report examining what went wrong during British Columbia's extraordinary wildfire season in 2017 says this year's unprecedented heat dome demands new ways of approaching extreme weather events.
George Abbott, co-author of “Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia,” said the current fire season shows more extensive efforts are needed than have been used in the past.
“I just think there's a new element of complexity in the challenge that was not there even three years ago when we did our report,” Abbott said in an interview.
Heat scorched much of B.C. in late June, setting a Canadian record of 49.6 C in the village of Lytton the day before fire destroyed much of the community. The so-called heat dome and a lack of rain launched the fire season weeks earlier than normal.
Abbott, a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister, co-chaired the independent review with Skawahlook First Nation Chief Maureen Chapman, who could not be reached for comment.
They made 108 recommendations, ranging from using prescribed burns for prevention to closing the spending gap between wildfire response and mitigation efforts of planning, preparedness and prevention.
As of July 6, the B.C. government says it has implemented 99 of the recommendations, although it did not respond directly to a question about which recommendations remain outstanding.
The BC Wildfire Service was overwhelmed on July 7, 2017, when a massive lightning storm sparked 160 simultaneous wildfires across the Cariboo region. More than 1.2 million hectares were burned that season and about 65,000 people were displaced by fire, while another 2,500 were forced from their homes by flooding from the spring runoff.
“The fires were of a magnitude the BC Wildfire Service simply couldn't cope with,” Abbott said.
The review found there was untapped potential to partner on the ground with First Nations communities in particular, as well as ranchers, logging contractors, local firefighters and other community resources.
Criticism from local Indigenous leaders about the 2021 response suggests some of the same problems remain.
Chief Matt Pasco of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council described the communication from the government during the fast-moving fire in Lytton on June 30 as “abysmal.”
Pasco, who operates a ranch north of Lytton near Ashcroft, said the first contact he received from the government came 12 hours after evacuations began, and it was regarding his cattle, not affected community members.
“They had processes in places for our cattle but none for Nlaka'pamux people,” Pasco said in an interview days after the fire.
Abbott said he believes the government still has work to do improving partnerships, particularly with First Nations, although he noted progress was likely stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Forests Ministry and BC Wildfire Service say in a joint statement that they are making progress on Abbott and Chapman's recommendations, as well as those from subsequent reviews, with a focus on preparedness, prevention, mitigation and response.
Among the steps forward, they say the government has invested $129.5 million in the Community Resiliency Investment Program, trained 147 Indigenous firefighters and introduced a Wildfire App to better communicate with the public.
The First Nations Emergency Services Society has been working on an inventory of existing First Nations crews and to identify others interested in establishing crews, while the wildfire service has updated its procurement and contracting processes to identified resources before emergencies happen, the statement says.
Updated predictive services also meant that on Tuesday, the wildfire service was able to provide wind and weather warnings that assisted local authorities in putting evacuation orders in place, it says.
“We recognize that in a changing climate, we need to do more to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from emergency events like wildfires and floods,” the statement says.
By Friday, more than 3,600 square kilometres of land had been charred and evacuation orders covered more than 5,000 properties, while another 17,500 were on alert.
Governments are facing overlapping crises this season, with COVID-19 and simultaneous wildfires in other provinces and U.S. states limiting the help that's available, Abbott said.
However, he said it's the heat dome that policy-makers should heed.
“That should be hugely alarming to us,” Abbott said.
“If that is going to be a phenomenon that repeats itself in future years, and I have no reason to suspect that it won't, we are going to be vulnerable not only on the fire side of the equation, but also on the flood side,” he said.
Abbott said he's concerned that if future heat waves arrive even earlier in the season they will cause catastrophic floods through a fast snowmelt, in addition to prematurely drying the forest.
The new threat means governments should be drawing together the best science and looking at what's happened in other places like Australia, he said.
“I hope that we will not look at our work in the months ahead as a blame-casting exercise, but rather look at it as our province trying to come to grips with what appears to be a faster paced rate of climate change.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2021.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
After the most expensive election in Canadian history resulted in little change politically, many are asking whether it was worth the $610-million price tag and where else that money could have been spent.
Inside hospitals across Saskatchewan, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, health-care workers are reporting a worsening crisis, with record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations pushing the health-care system to the brink.
Long-term care outbreaks are rising, and provinces have different strategies for keeping COVID-19 out
As the fourth wave continues across Canada and community spread climbs, outbreaks are also on the rise inside Canada’s long-term care homes, leading experts to stress the importance of staff being vaccinated — an issue which varies province to province.
The boyfriend of Gabby Petito, whose body was found at a national park in Wyoming after a cross-country trip with him, was charged with unauthorized use of a debit card as searchers continued looking for him Thursday in Florida swampland.
British actor Tom Felton, known for his portrayal of Draco Malfoy in the 'Harry Potter' movies, collapsed while playing a celebrity golf exhibition Thursday at the Ryder Cup.
Canadian fashion model Linda Evangelista says she's been left 'permanently deformed' from a cosmetic procedure that she had approximately five years ago.
The corporate entities of SNC-Lavalin Inc. and SNC-Lavalin International Inc., as well as two former senior executives of the Quebec-based firms have been charged with a series of fraud and forgery offences by the RCMP.
Canada saw only a slight increase in the volume of foreign nationals entering the country in the first week after the border opened to those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
An Ontario mother, who had been holding a one-woman protest for the past week to try to get help with her son's autism care, will finally have her file looked at after a call from the social services minister.
The cases were among 832 new cases found in B.C. over the past 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health.
The president of the Cedar Hill Golf Club says a report from District of Saanich staff recommending changes to the operation df Cedar Hill Golf Course will hurt the club and its members.
Health officials on Vancouver Island have declared clusters of COVID-19 at four more schools in the South Island. There are now five active clusters at schools in the region.
Alberta reported 1,660 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 new deaths on Thursday.
Alberta Health is investigating whether an Edson party advertising itself as a “get COVID” event to build up natural immunity to the virus actually happened.
Some Calgary businesses say while the new city vaccination bylaw doesn't change what they do, it does ease some of the pressure on front line staff.
Alberta reported 1,660 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 new deaths on Thursday.
Two men were rushed to hospital after an apparent drive-by shooting in south Edmonton Thursday night.
While five front-running mayoral candidates faced off in a forum Thursday afternoon, the other candidate, Mike Nickel, was serving hot dogs in the parking lot of his campaign office.
An Ontario man who had a faulty gas metre and racked up at $1,000 bill says was shocked when the was told he would still have to pay the bill.
Someone in Ontario won more than $21 million in Wednesday’s LOTTO 6/49 draw but has yet to check their ticket.
Unvaccinated MPPs could be prevented from entering Queen’s Park when the legislature resumes in October unless they get tested for COVID-19.
After just a few hours of debate, Quebec's National Assembly voted unanimously Thursday evening to pass a new bill that would prohibit anti-vaccine protesters from demonstrating near schools, daycares, and hospitals -- an offence punishable by a fine of up to $12,000.
Quebec kids were at the heart of a heated exchange Thursday over language laws -- specifically, English-speaking kids and whether they're really leaving school with functional French.
Amid major staff shortages, Quebec will cut large cheques to health-care workers in a bid to strengthen a public network put under serious pressure by the pandemic.
A Manitoba critical care doctor and infectious diseases specialist remains cautiously optimistic when it comes to the impact of the fourth wave in Manitoba.
A multi-car crash on a Manitoba highway on Wednesday resulted in police arresting a driver on impaired driving and weapon charges.
Five businesses in Manitoba received tickets last week for not following public health orders.
Saskatchewan broke COVID-19 hospitalization records again on Thursday, reporting 273 patients in hospital with 58 in intensive care.
Saskatoon City Council will look at a committee recommendation to allow parking patios to operate through the winter, making them a year-round amenity.
A Saskatoon judge has ruled in favor allowing a father to have his child vaccinated despite the mother being opposed to her child getting the shot.
'Unbelievably heartbreaking': Sask. nurse left waiting for transplant as province suspends organ donation program
Krystal Graham has been on the liver transplant waitlist for about a year. Now, she says she is concerned COVID-19 will delay her life-saving surgery even longer.
The Melville Millionaires have postponed hockey games until further notice after a positive COVID-19 case associated with the team.
Six-year-old Nygah Eashappie is pretty subdued about his newfound fame. The Regina boy is the latest to model in advertisements for local clothing brand; 22Fresh.
The first twenty-four hours following New Brunswick's rollout of new pandemic restrictions have been rocky for some of the businesses tasked with enforcing the new rules.
Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting the province’s 95th death related to COVID-19, along with 41 new cases and 20 recoveries on Thursday, as the number of active cases in the province rises to 147.
Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting 52 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, along with 35 recoveries, as the number of active cases in the province rises to 574.
Between flooded roads and flooded basements, London and surrounding regions were left drenched after a significant rain event rolled through the area.
The province has been alerted to a significant rise in COVID-19 cases detected among children in London and Middlesex County.
About 3,500 people tucked away their pandemic blues and hit the mud-soaked Delaware Speedway for Road to Rock the Park Thursday night.
An investigation into the shooting of a white cow moose in northern Ontario last fall has been closed and officials say no charges will be laid.
A 17-year-old from Greater Sudbury has been charged with attempted murder in connection with the stabbing of a woman downtown last week.
CTV News has learned Timmins police have a suspect in custody after one person was killed and two others were injured in a shooting in Schumacher overnight.
A former Kitchener MP has pleaded guilty to assault charges.
Although many businesses in Waterloo Region say the vaccine certificate program has been running smoothly so far, they're prepared for that to change.
Former Nazi death-squad member Helmut Oberlander has died in the midst of his Canadian deportation hearing.