Wildfire review up against the clock before next fire season

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
December 8, 2017 - 4:52am

KAMLOOPS — The NDP government has finally called an inquiry into this past summer’s wildfires, adding the devastating flood situation into the mix.

The only surprise, if you could call it that, is that it took so long to get a review underway. There’s an obvious need to look back at what happened this year, to figure out what was done right and what could be done better, and to get ready for the next big one.

Former B.C. cabinet minister George Abbot and Indigenous leader Maureen Chapman, who will head up the review, would be well served to take a look at the 2003 commission led by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon.

He toured B.C. gathering input from all manner of people affected by the horrendous wildfires of that year, and authored a cogent report on what needed to be done.

Many of his recommendations will sound all too familiar to those who lived through the 2017 wildfires. He talked about communications, command and control, recovery and public education.

FireSmart? Experts this year were urging communities and homeowners to adopt its principles of reducing fire-damage risks — Filmon urged the same thing way back in 2003.

He wrote about preparedness for evacuations, about the important role of community fire departments, and other key issues that are the same as today.

Structural sprinkler systems, which are portable units that can be set up on streets where fire threatens, are a big topic right now. Filmon talked about them in his report, too.

In large part, the mandate of this new review will be to find out what we learned since 2003, and what we should do next.

The Filmon Commission was able to get its job done by February the following year, providing good lead time before the next fire season. Because it’s only now getting going, the Abbott-Chapman review isn’t expected to file a report until April, by which time the province will be gearing up for the 2018 season.

It will be a tight squeeze to implement any recommendations in time for next year. We can all hope it won’t be a repeat of 2017, of course, but if the experts are right, we won’t have 14 years before the province once again goes up in flames.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.