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Shuswap group pleased to see wildfire concerns recognized by B.C. task force

Concerns remain around implementation of recommendations

Integration of skilled locals was a specific concern for B.C. Premier David Eby when his Expert Task Force on Emergencies began looking into ways to improve wildfire mitigation and response.

Formed in September 2023, the premier’s task force was asked to provide recommendations to government on wildfire and emergency management. On Thursday, April 4, Eby, along with Forests Minister Bruce Ralston and task force members, were at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops to announce the resulting 31 recommendations. A key piece of the announcement stemming from the recommendations was the creation of a wildfire training and education school, the first of its kind, at TRU.

Eby said the facility, a partnership between TRU and the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), will offer a wide range of subjects, from basic wildfire training to post-doctoral research in fire behaviour, to create a full range of expertise, with students being able to earn credits that count toward an undergraduate degree.

“This centre will ensure that we have people with the skills that we need to respond to this evolving threat in British Columbia,” said Eby.

Attending the April 4 media conference was North Shuswap resident Jim Cooperman. After last summer’s devastating Bush Creek East wildfire rolled through his and neighbouring communities, Cooperman and others have been working to affect changes in the province around wildfire response. Included in that work were a number of recommendations he and registered professional forester Bruce Morrow submitted to the task force. Their recommendations resulted from work with a group of experts with decades of experience at senior management levels in wildfire suppression. Concerns were compiled along with a series of recommendations that became online petitions that now have over 6,000 signatures, said Cooperman.

Responding via email to the April 4 announcement, Cooperman said “We are pleased that many of the key concerns and recommendations we presented were recognized and included.

“There is no doubt that many of our issues matched those of the other groups that provided input to the Task Force,” he added. “We are also pleased that the government has accepted all the recommendations and announced that work has begun to implement many of them already.”

Read more: North Shuswap residents demanding changes to wildfire response in B.C.

Read more: B.C. to open first-of-its-kind wildfire training, education centre in Kamloops

However, Cooperman noted the announcement offered “no real substance,” and the recommendations no specifics regarding implementation.

In its summary of the recommendations, regarding Initial Response, the task force recommended “clarifying, streamlining and strengthening guidance, roles and responsibilities for initial response for newly detected fires based on a “nearest qualified crew” principle, supported by proactive communication and coordination.”

“All we have are vague promises,” said Cooperman, likening the exercise to a repeat of how “previous governments reacted to the two key former past inquiry reports, the 2003 Filmon and 2021 Abbott-Chapman reports, when intentions for implementation turned out to be empty-handed.”

Also of concern for Cooperman were things not mentioned by the premier or task force.

“There is no mention of the need to re-establish the fire warden system,” said Cooperman. “There is no recognition of need to minimize the use of out-of-province management teams, nor is there any mention of the need for a thorough, independent review of both the BC Wildfire Service and the Shuswap Firestorm disaster.

“Equally troubling, is there is no mention of the use of backburns (controlled ignitions), which have been failing miserably resulting in major devastation in many communities, especially the Shuswap.”

Cooperman said that until the details are available for how the province plans to implement all of the recommendations, “we remain anxious and worried.”

The province has already announced the implementation of several recommendations, with funding for them already in this year’s budget. They include hiring more firefighters, including more from rural and remote regions of the province; expanding the available fleet of fixed-wing-aircrafts and helicopters; and purchasing additional equipment, along with other measures designed to improve prevention of fires.

Eby also stressed B.C. will have the financial resources as the wildfire season unfolds.

A forum on the 2023 Shuswap wildfire is planned for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24, at the Salmar Classic. Speakers include Cooperman, North Shuswap electoral area director Jay Simpson, North Shuswap business owner and firefighter Mark Acton and former natural resources coordinator Allan Willcocks. There will also be a slide show featuring images by local photographer Janis Smith.

The goal of the event, said Cooperman, is to “raise awareness of the how and why the fire swept through the community, how the community responded, and to provide the recommendations for change in how wildfires are fought in the future,” with the overarching urgency around preventing what happened last summer from happening again.

With files by Wolf Depner/Black Press Media

Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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