Fire in his eyes

Pat Bell believes British Columbians could be looking at another summer of bad wildfires. The forests and range minister made that statement on Friday, following the release of a Forest Practices Board report that warned "what may seem like an extraordinary fire season in the past may become the new norm as the consequences of climate change accumulate."

But it seems, from the minister's vantage point, the conditions for such a season may already developing. "I'm very concerned," he told Public Eye. "It is very dry. I'm in Prince George right now. I can tell you there isn't probably a foot of snow on my yard and normally, at this time of year, there'd be three or four feet of snow," he stated.

"It's been an abnormally dry winter so far. There is two months left to go - a good two months and a bit of winter. So hopefully there is still is an opportunity for more precipitation. But, yes, it could potentially be another bad fire season if it continues this way."

Five months ago, the government's was planning to set aside $52 million to fight those fires - considerably less than the over $400 million it spent in fiscal 2009/10. The minister couldn't say whether that plan would change in the government's upcoming budget. But even if that doesn't happen, the Prince George North MLA said he'll still have the authority to exceed that cap.

As for the practice board's suggestion that more funding is needed to sustain local wildfire protection programs in the long-term, the minister stated "our fiscal situation is not favourable right now...But perhaps there's an opportunity work with some of our other partners - our federal partners and others - to try to find additional funding."

In the meantime, the minister said he'll be working with his cabinet colleagues to "ensure we're not building communities that are susceptible to wildfires" - another recommendation included in the board's report. And, in the next few weeks, he expects to be briefed on his ministry's review of the 2009 fire season.

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