In this week’s column, retired professional forester Jim Hilton says no doubt there will be a review of the 2017 fire season and an opportunity for public comments and a chance to review past recommendations and see if they were implemented this season. Here firefighters are up early at the Cariboo Fire Centre camp Friday, July 15. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

OPINION: Questioning the usefulness of wildfire interface reports

Wildfire reports are usually commissioned when the area burned is above average and there has been substantial property losses.

Jim Hilton

Special the to the Tribune/Advisor

Wildfire interface reports. How useful are they?

Wildfire reports are usually commissioned when the area burned is above average and there has been substantial property losses. In 1994 there were 4,000 fires but less than 50,0000 hectares lost.

There were 2,500 wildfires in 2003 with 334 homes and business destroyed, 45,000 people evacuated and $700 million spent fighting the fires which burned 260,000 hectares of forest.

A special report for the Cariboo Region was also commissioned in 2010 to deal with the outcry of some locals regarding the handling of fires in their area but to my knowledge was never made public. Reports have also been done on individual fires i.e. 1992 fire near Penticton and 1998 fire near Salmon Arm.

The 2003 wildfire review (Fire Storm chaired by Gary Filman, Manitoba’s premier for 11 years) resulted in nine days of public meetings and many interviews held mostly in southern B.C. communities and produced a 100 page document.

There were approximately 62 recommendations under the following seven headings: 1. Forest management. 2. Emergency management. 3. Communications. 4. Evacuation. 5. Resources. 6. Financial accountability and 7. Post emergency recovery.

While there was no clear consensus on many issues there was an agreement that aspects of planning, preparation , response and recovery could be improved. There was also a consensus that prevention of and preparation for disasters is a better investment than expenditures coping with disasters.

Some general recommendations were to have more fuel treatment projects and prescribed burns. The review team recognized the forest protection service has a well established training and development section that is recognized and respected nationally and internationally.

Nevertheless, incremental and continual improvement is a trait inherent to all successful organizations and to that end some specific recommendations were made including the following:

1. Establishing a central data base for firefighting equipment to integrate the resources coming from a wide variety of communities.

2. Use more locals where possible.

3.Consider some mechanism other than retaking the S100 fire fighting training package which would allow past experience in forest industry or fire fighting as equivalent certification.

4. Pay rates for firefighters from volunteer and smaller fire departments should be fair.

5. Forest protection branch should restore type 1 unit crews to the historical level of 27 for the province.

6. Getting started early (from dawn to 10 a.m.). Crews were held back for safety reasons i.e. danger tree assessment and removal process appears to have been the factor slowing early access.

7. Pay for volunteer firefighting training funded by municipal and regional governments. Volunteers must be treated as equals and be fully informed of policies and expectations.

Some First Nations felt their experienced crews were under utilized as there are many trained and experienced fire fighters with s100 certification in their communities who were not employed even though three million person hours of time was spent fighting fires.

No doubt there will be a review of the 2017 fire season and an opportunity for public comments and a chance to review past recommendations and see if they were implemented this season.

An interesting observation came from some final thoughts in the Fire Storm paper which described dry moisture cycles following a seven to 10-year cycle. The 2017 super fire storms arrived as predicted following the 2003 and 2010 highs.