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B.C. wants 1,000 more international firefighters to join wildfire battle

Province also wants federal help with the approximately 350 or so fires burning across B.C.
Flames from the Donnie Creek wildfire burn along a ridge top north of Fort St. John, British Columbia, Sunday, July 2, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Noah Berger

British Columbia has requested 1,000 additional international firefighters to join the battle against the province’s wildfires.

Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said Thursday she had also spoken to her counterpart in Ottawa, Bill Blair, about bringing more federal resources to help fight the 350 or so fires burning across B.C.

Ma said at a briefing about drought conditions in B.C. that a team from Australia is arriving on Saturday, adding to the 160 international personnel from Mexico and the United States currently deployed in B.C.

She said the Australians are an “incident management team.”

Firefighters from South Korea, France, South Africa and the Dominican Republic have also been fighting fires in Canada, during what is shaping up as a record-breaking fire season.

Blair, federal minister of emergency preparedness, had earlier said he was expecting a “fairly substantive” request for help from B.C. as wildfires worsen.

Blair told The Canadian Press the government operations centre has been in discussions with the province for the last several days, and Ottawa is ready to deploy needed resources.

“The fire season now is obviously sparking up pretty seriously out there and they have sent us an indication of some additional resources that they will require,” he said in an interview Thursday.

“For the last 48 hours we’ve been working with Canadian Armed Forces, Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and people from the Canadian Coast Guard,” said Blair. “There’s a lot of different federal departments all mobilizing their response to the requirements of British Columbia.”

He said the federal help could include military assistance for airlift evacuations from remote locations, as well as members of the military trained as firefighters who can provide “mop up” to keep blazes from reigniting once they’ve been put out.

“If there are communities that become isolated and need to be evacuated, then Canadian Armed Forces provides those resources,” Blair said.

The Canadian Coast Guard is also mobilizing support for affected coastal communities, and Natural Resources Canada staff with forest management expertise are also preparing to help, he said.

Blair added there are a number of national parks in B.C., so Parks Canada is ready to aid the province with park firefighters and forest management experts.

Blair said B.C. is one of the better equipped provinces to handle fires because it is often among the hardest hit, but any extra help needed is being made available.

Ma’s request for more international help was lodged through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which co-ordinates firefighting resources across the country.

Premier David Eby said earlier this week the province was looking for more firefighting support, particularly air equipment, in its battle against wildfires.

He said forecasts suggest B.C. and Canada could be facing the worst fire season in 100 years.

Eby expressed gratitude for the help provided by international firefighters from Mexico and the United States who are on the frontlines with provincial crews.

Rural and northern B.C. communities have felt the brunt of this year’s wildfire season, but on Wednesday, smoke from a blaze on the mountains overlooking Vancouver could be seen across the city, as helicopters dropped water to extinguish the flames.

Brant Arnold-Smith, director of the Metro Vancouver regional district’s emergency operations centre, said at a media briefing Thursday that crews were still tackling hot spots, saying the fire in North Vancouver’s Seymour conservation area is deep underground.

“We are quite confident that it will not spread anymore,” he said.

Arnold-Smith said their initial theory suggested it was caused by lightning, but they’re not ruling out that it was human caused until an investigation is done.

But he said the fire was in a “rugged, secluded area” where people rarely trek, taking an hour and a half for crews to reach the scene through thick brush.

“This event serves as an important reminder as to how dry our region is,” he said. “It’s been almost a month of just no precipitation in the region, so our green spaces are very dry and very susceptible to any sort of ignition sources that could cause a wildfire.

There are more than 350 wildfires burning in all corners of the province, and the BC Wildfire Service warns another blast of heat in many areas could add more burdens on already overstretched crews.

The wildfire service says a week-old, 300-square-kilometre blaze close to Highway 37 just south of the Yukon boundary has been calm, but it and similar fires across northern B.C. could flare up during the next several days of expected hot weather.

READ ALSO: ‘Deeply concerning’: 22 of B.C.’s 34 water basins facing severe drought levels