B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter works on perimeter of a fire, July 2019. (B.C. government)

B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter works on perimeter of a fire, July 2019. (B.C. government)

Prescribed burns on hold as B.C. prepares for COVID-19 wildfire season

More air tankers, smaller camps as season off to slow start

The B.C. Wildfire Service is gearing up for the summer season with COVID-19 restrictions, including smaller wildfire camps and single-occupancy tents for firefighters in the field.

B.C.’s 2020 wildfire season is off to a slower than average start, with 132 fires identified as of May 21, five currently burning and all under control. The 10-year average for this time of year is 172 fires.

B.C. is proceeding with its fire prevention and fuel management program, but prescribed burns are not being done due to air quality restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Most open burning has been prohibited since April 16 as part of COVID-19 public health restrictions, except for campfires that are less than half a metre in width and height.

“Some of the interface work doesn’t require burning, and that’s proceeding,” Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said. “I visited one of those interface sites just outside Kelowna’s boundaries, where the number of stems per hectare has been reduced significantly. There are all sorts of side benefits to wildlife, to recreation to making some of the logs available to local mills.”

RELATED: Scientists predict high fire risk for Western Canada

RELATED: 2017 Elephant Hill fire likely caused by smoking

As with industrial camps and activities, B.C. Wildfire Service is subject to restrictions imposed by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Those include restrictions on vehicle and aircraft occupancy, and the burning restrictions.

“Some of our prescribed burning program, which is a very robust three-year, $30 million program that we’re just starting into, may be adapted because of the provincial health officer guidelines around high-risk areas for smoke,” Donaldson said. “That impacts people who already have respiratory illnesses and are susceptible to the symptoms of COVID-19 as well as general population at higher risk.”

Jody Lucius, superintendent for communications with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said wildfire camps will restrict their interaction with local communities when they are set up to fight fires. Smaller, five-person camps will also be used to reduce the size and crowding of traditional fire camps.

“We’ve also moved away from the use of multi-person tents,” Lucius said. “We’re going to single tents only. We did introduce some crew camp kits that will allow some crews to work and live on their own outside of a fire camp, and that will help support smaller fire camps.”

B.C. has increased its air capacity for wildfire fighting this year, with 15 per cent more capacity for dropping fire retardant and 150 per cent more water skimmer capacity, Donaldson said. That includes 20 Fire Boss skimmer aircraft and 20 spotter aircraft, as well as a pair of four-engine Avro RJ85 jets with capacity for 11,000 litres.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturebc wildfiresCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

From left to right. Jeremy, Ryan and Mitch Hunter are all third generation owners of Excel Tire, which will soon to become Trail Tire. (File)
3 generations later: Iconic Revelstoke tire business to be retread with new name

Excel Tire soon to become Trail Tire, but is still owned by the Hunter family

Ryan Bavin of Bavin Glassworks in Invermere. Photo: Submitted
Call for entries for Columbia Basin Culture Tour

Deadline for registration for artists and venues is April 15

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

Downtown Revelstoke on March 4, 2021. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
48 COVID-19 cases in February for Revelstoke

Since the start of the pandemic roughly one out of 30 local residents have contracted the virus

About 50 people gathered Friday, March 5, 2021 in Penticton to protest city council’s decision to close a temporary winter shelter. (Jesse Day - Western News)
WATCH: Protest over Penticton shelter draws large crowd

People are gathering in Gyro Park to protest the closure of a winter shelter

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

Paramjit Bogarh, connected to the murder of his wife in Vernon 35 years ago, has been relerased on full parole, one year after he was sentenced to five years in prison for accessory after the fact. (Contributed)
Full parole for ex-Okanagan man who helped wife’s alleged killer escape

Paramjit Bogarh pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after helping brother flee Canada

The Princeton Traditional Music Festival, normally held in August, was denied a grant due to COVID. (File photo)
COVID makes some of the 2021 grant decisions for Princeton council

Municipality doles out funds while striving to meet policy

Most Read