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article imageB.C. fires are the 'new normal' says Premier John Horgan

By Karen Graham     Aug 21, 2018 in World
When wildfires get as ferocious as the ones ravaging Western Canada right now, firefighters can't do much more than letting them run their course, says a risk management expert. But what if this is now the "new normal?
While British Columbia Premier John Horgan was touring the wildfire-ravaged, smoke-filled area around Prince George Tuesday morning. Al Beaver, an independent risk management expert who worked on fire management for governments in Canada and Australia was speaking with The Current's guest host Ioanna Roumeliotis.
Flanked by the federal defense minister, the mayor of Prince George and a First Nations chief in Prince George, Premier Horgan addressed the media, saying wildfires have prompted an unprecedented second state of emergency in the province in the last 12 months, after the devastating floods this spring.
"We're concerned, all of us, that this may be the new normal," Horgan said, adding that emergency officials are very worried about the wind and lightning forecast for the region, and no rain in the forecast. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Canadian Armed Forces have deployed about 300 personnel to help fight the fires in B.C., adding, "We're coming together far too often like this."
Beaver's take on the fire situation in B.C.
B.C. is dealing with over 565 wildfires on Tuesday, and over 20,000 people are under evacuation orders. The raging wildfires have thrown a thick blanket of smoke across western Canada, drifting down to combine with the smoke from the fires burning across the western United States.
The smoke is so bad, it is readily visible from space and is so dangerous that air quality alerts have been posted everywhere in western North America. But Beaver points out that while the smoke is a health hazard, it also makes it difficult for fire officials to spot new fires, limiting firefighting tactics that can be used.
"Current fire suppression technology is vastly inferior to the extremes of nature," he said, adding that there are no fire-season-ending events on the near horizon. "They need rain," he said.
Beaver discussed many things that people have already heard before but failed to act on - like not building our homes out of wood, adding more kindling to fires, and building homes too close together, adding to the fuel for fires. Beaver argues that we should seize the opportunity to reshape the landscape by using "the right materials, the right design, the right distance between each property."
Last year's review of fires and floods
Horgan also brought up the independent review of last year's devastating wildfires and floods in B.C. He said the province was halfway through the review when they had to put the report aside to deal with this year's fires.
"From flood to fire to flood and then again to fire … and we have had two states of emergency — that's unprecedented," he said. "That speaks to the changing environment we live in and the ravages of climate change."
The independent review of last year's devastating wildfires and floods in B.C. found better communication and coordination is needed between the province and First Nations communities. This was detailed in over 100 recommendations on how the B.C government can improve its response to natural disasters.
Most of the recommendations address issues such as the need to include Indigenous communities as true partners during planning and decision making. And besides addressing the issue of including indigenous communities in planning and emergency management plans. the review also money issues.
The review cites the growing gap between the amount of money the province spends on responding to disasters and the funds available for prevention. The report's co-author George Abbott, a former Liberal MLA, said a multi-year strategy is needed. "I salute what government has done and what government is doing, but we have, I think, given the magnitude of the challenge a significantly long way to go yet," he said.
More about British columbia, Wildfires, two states of emergency, fire and flood, Environment
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