Independent experts appointed to review 2017 wildfire and flooding events
Victoria: The B.C. government has launched an independent review of this year’s unprecedented wildfire and spring flooding seasons, Premier John Horgan announced today.
“Wildfires and flooding this year devastated many areas of our province, displacing tens of thousands of people,” said Horgan. “While we work hard to help the people and communities recover, we also owe it to those people to make sure we learn from the events of the past spring and summer. I’m pleased that George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman have agreed to lead this external review.”
The review team will examine all aspects of the Province’s response to the floods and wildfires of 2017 and will also engage with British Columbians. The team will deliver a report with recommendations before April 30, 2018, that can be used to inform the 2018 spring freshet and wildfire season. The independent strategic review complements the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC evaluations of this year’s operations, which are currently underway.
“What B.C. went through this past year was unprecedented with respect to wildfires and flooding,” said Abbott. “Given the scale of these events and the enormous effort it took to deal with them, this review is an opportunity to take a closer look at what took place and how the government could enhance its response strategies.”
“It’s important to have an independent team look at this year’s flooding and wildfire seasons with fresh eyes,” said Chapman. “The goal is to learn from those experiences and improve the government’s procedures for dealing with these kinds of events.”
George Abbott has a long and distinguished career in public service and a wealth of local and provincial government experience. He served as minster of five different ministries from 2001 to 2012, including the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management from 2004 to 2005.
Maureen Chapman is Hereditary Chief of the Skawahlook First Nation and participates on a number of committees with the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
The historic scope of 2017’s wildfires and freshet events prompted an all-out response by the B.C. government. This included the declaration of a provincewide state of emergency on July 7 that lasted for 10 full weeks – the longest in the province’s history.
“The BC Wildfire Service evaluates its wildfire response and firefighting operations after every significant wildfire season to determine which practices could be improved,” said Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson. “This year will be no exception, and George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman’s review will be a valuable tool to complete that important work.”
Widespread flooding this spring, and a record-setting wildfire season, resulted in numerous evacuations and significant damage to private property, infrastructure and natural resources.
“The dedication and courage exhibited this year by BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC staff, first responders, contractors and countless volunteers was remarkable,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. “Were it not for their professionalism and hard work, this year’s events could have been much worse. We owe it to them to ensure this review better prepares our province for future events.”
- The term “freshet” refers to the movement of water associated with the thawing of ice and snow each spring. This runoff can result in high water levels in streams, lakes and other waterways. Flooding may occur in nearby areas.
- Over 65,000 people were displaced over the course of the wildfire season. As of Nov. 30, 2017, 1,346 wildfires had burned over 1.2 million hectares since April 1, 2017. This is almost 10 times the 10-year average for hectares burned in a fire season (141,064 hectares).
- As of Nov. 30, 2017, direct fire suppression costs for this season (since April 1, 2017) were estimated at over $564 million.
- This year’s freshet and wildfire events resulted in the largest Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) claim in British Columbia’s history, conservatively estimated at $400 million as of Nov. 30, 2017.