OPINION: Politics or Mother Nature

Columnist Jim Hilton says the BC Wildfire Service is facing growing criticism from the public

Jim Hilton

Special the Tribune Advisor

BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) is facing a dilemma. As staff and their political masters analyze the 2017 firefighting records and expenses they are facing growing criticism from the public who were most affected by the devastating fires of this year as well as defending the unprecedented firefighting costs along with losses of timber and personal property.

The BCWS will present some strong evidence of extreme conditions prior to the July 7 dry lightning storm coupled with strong winds and, in the case of the Cariboo Fire Center, the unfortunate disruption of their operation with one of the first fires.

The public will accept this reasoning to a degree but will provide examples where lack of available resources could have reduced the impact of the extreme conditions. They will also make the point that these conditions of 2017 may be the new norm and it is time to do a thorough review. The centralized approach to fighting fires needs some serious independent scrutiny. The new government will be in a good position to consider the recommendations of such a review and be able to point out which recommendations from reports commissioned by the previous government in 2003 and 2010 were not implemented.

Detailed fire information will not likely be forthcoming from the BCWS until some of the investigations about the causes of some fires is completed and when the politicians are ready to release and defend the information. In the meantime we will have to use what information has been made available. Unfortunately the fire fighting information provided at the Nov. 1 meeting here in Williams Lake was quite limited. Equally disappointing about the public meeting was what I considered poor attendance (estimated to be under 100 people ) when you consider the thousands that were evacuated and devastating losses of timber and personal property.

Some information is available on the individual fires on the BCWS site but what most people want to see is the particular conditions leading up to each fire and what resources were used and the sequencing of events during the fire fighting activities.

As the information becomes available and the discussions take place concerning each fire it is good to remember the fire fighters and staff of BCWS were working in the constraints of the system that has developed over the past 20 plus years. Personal attacks or criticism on individuals or specific incidents is not productive and our focus should be what improvements can be made on the system that allows the individuals to be more effective in the future.

Until more detailed information is available I will continue to use what is provided and talk to some of the people who had first hand experience with some of the fires and make suggestions as to where improvements could be made.

Jim Hilton is a retired professional forester.

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