Provincial forest fire budget up in flames as B.C. burns

Provincial forest fire budget up in flames as B.C. burns

04 August 2010

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Canada — B.C. has already burned through its yearly forest fire budget — and officials see “no reprieve” to bone-dry conditions in the worst hit areas.

On Wednesday the number of active fires held steady around 400, but with “volatile” fire activity in the Cariboo region overnight, the total number of hectares of provincial forests burned jumped to 85,000, up from 77,500 on Tuesday, B.C. Fire Information officer Gwen Eamer said.

Most fires are concentrated in the Kamloops, Cariboo and northwest areas of B.C.

Hot and dry weather is forecast to continue in these areas, and officials “don’t see any reprieve in the near future,” Eamer said.

That means no substantial rain is forecast for a week to 10 days.

B.C. has spent $56.5 million to date on firefighting, above the $52-million firefighting budget for 2010.

According to some reports the province has been spending about $6 million per day since fire activity surged over the past week. Eamer said “it would not be useful” to predict how much this year’s fire fight will cost.

But on Wednesday the provincial NDP attempted to burn the government for badly overshooting on fire budget predictions “the vast majority of time,” over the last nine years.

The B.C. Liberals “have blown their budget every year since 2005,” with fire seasons underbudgeted by $896 million since 2002 according to documents, the NDP said.

Forests Minister Pat Bell told Global BC fire budgets are generally accurate but in “a bad year all bets are off.”

NDP critic Norm Macdonald disagreed and said that, based on five-year averages, the government should be budgeting about twice as much for fires as they do now.

In 2009, the government overshot its fire budget by $320 million.

Meanwhile, four separate evacuation orders remain in place in the hard hit central Cariboo region, which has about 120 active fires burning. The largest fires are in the Meldrum Creek area, near Williams Lake, and Pelican Lake, southwest of Prince George.

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch reports 1,238 fires so far this season.

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