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
NEW | Chinese government initiated dialogue to release two Michaels: Canada's ambassador to the U.S.
Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. says the Chinese government initiated the dialogue to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, noting that the U.S. did not make the freedom of the two Canadians a condition of the deferred prosecution agreement reached with Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
EXCLUSIVE FOOTAGE | Two Michaels land safely in Canada after nearly three years of detention in China
After spending nearly three years in a Chinese prison, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have finally landed in Canada. The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that a Canadian Air Forces passenger plane carrying the two Michaels had landed in Calgary early Saturday morning.
A team of scientists have developed a 3D-printed vaccine patch as a painless way to immunize without the use of a needle while offering a better immune response, according to the study.
American businesses are at a loss to explain why the U.S. continues to deny Canadians the ability to drive across the border for holidays, day trips or shopping excursions -- a restriction the federal Canadian government began easing over the summer for fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey say smartphone sensor data combined with machine learning could detect whether someone is under the influence of cannabis.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being urged by several experts on sexual misconduct in the military to name a new defence minister as he sets about building a new cabinet following Monday's federal election.
Germany's centre-left Social Democrats were locked in a very close race Sunday with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right bloc, which was heading toward its worst-ever result in the country's parliamentary election, projections showed.
As Canada prepares to recognize the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Thursday, the desire to hear from residential school survivors has soared across the country.
After a hot dry summer, parts of B.C.'s South Coast are in for another rainfall warning.
BC Liberal leadership candidates will participate in the internal campaign's first debate on Tuesday, which will be livestreamed through the party's website and Facebook page.
In the last budget, Ottawa pledged close to $650 million over five years for the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative unveiled in June, but few details have been released about how the money would be spent on salmon recovery plans.
The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will kick off their preseason campaigns Sunday, but it's action outside of the lines that many Albertan eyes are focused on.
Three Hills RCMP say a man died following a crash between a truck and a train on Sunday morning.
Police say they've devoted a significant amount of resources toward investigating a number of child luring incidents that have taken place since last Wednesday.
After a summer of record-breaking heat, most Alberta farmers have harvested their crops ahead of schedule while yields for some crops are significantly below normal levels.
With Alberta’s health care system now the focus of a military mission, the people who work within it are reaching a breaking point as stress compounds with negative patient interactions.
A new monument was unveiled in Spruce Grove, it’s a tribute to 54 Albertans who were killed by impaired drivers.
Ontario's daily COVID-19 case counts are lower than what many experts had expected by now, and while they point to a number of factors for the relative relief, they say now is not the time to ease up on those measures.
Health officials in Ontario are reporting another 653 cases of COVID-19 Sunday as well as six additional deaths related to the disease.
Police say that a driving instructor has been arrested and charged after he allegedly sexually assaulted a student over the course of three weeks.
A man was found dead with bullet wounds Sunday afternoon following a shooting in Montreal's Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles borough.
Quebec reported 719 new COVID-19 cases Sunday as a recent rise in hospitalizations appeared to slow over the weekend.
Local Black leaders from a town just north of Montreal say the local police force did not hold proper community consultations when they developed an action plan to combat racism and racial profiling on the force.
A man is dead after being shot in the North End early Sunday morning.
Immigrating to Canada comes with many challenges and finding work can be one of the hardest, but a new program in Winnipeg is hoping to help recent immigrants find employment.
Frontline healthcare workers in Prince Albert choreographed a music video in an effort to boost hospital morale.
For seven straight days Saskatchewan has reported record high COVID-19 hospitalizations, while also adding 492 new reported cases on Saturday.
The sixth annual National Drive Electric Week celebration in Regina aimed to dissolve common misconceptions around electric cars and promote their benefits for the environment.
Dalhousie University says it's taking disciplinary action against students who took part in a rowdy party Saturday night that drew thousands to the city's south end.
New Brunswick is announcing another COVID-19-related death, as well as 82 new cases on Sunday.
Nova Scotia is scheduled to move into Phase 5 of its recovery plan on October 4 if all goes according to plan.
A young man is in critical condition in hospital following an assault, according to police.
A flood warning has been issued by the Lower Thames Conservation Authority.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is reporting 18 new COVID-19 cases Sunday.
Emergency crews are currently at the scene of a suspicious fire on Sixth Avenue in the Greater Sudbury community of Lively, where a vehicle fire has spread to at least two homes.
While the saga regarding the detainment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by Chinese authorities may be at an end, the political fallout between the two countries as a result of it remains unclear.
Health officials in Waterloo Region logged 27 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
Conestoga College is mourning the death of 18-year-old Joshua Bennett from Etobicoke who police identified as the man found dead in Kitchener on Friday morning.
One man is dead after being struck by a pick-up truck on Wellington Road 124 just outside of Cambridge early Sunday morning.