B.C. burns through $52M budget to fight forest fires
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, August 4, 2010 9:58AM EDT
Crews in British Columbia battling hundreds of wildfires have already used up the $52 million budget to fight forest fires for the fiscal year, officials announced.
The province set aside the money to fight wildfires for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which began in April. But a spokesperson with B.C.'s Wildfire Management Branch said $52.8 million has been spent since April 1. While crews are currently battling more than 400 active wildfires across the province, figures released Tuesday show there have been more than 1,200 wildfires in B.C. since April 1, burning more than 84,000 hectares of land.
Gwen Earner said the province spent $6 million on Tuesday alone and said "we can anticipate continued expenditures" as hot, dry conditions and lightning storms continue.
A review of the 2009 fire season prepared by B.C.'s Ministry of Forests and Range indicates the province spent a record $403 million last year fighting more than 3,000 fires that burned through more than 240,000 hectares of land. The expenditures went considerably above the $62 million budget set aside by the province, though officials say the ministry can spend whatever sum it needs to fight fires.
"The minister of finance sets aside resources through the contingency vote and also through the forecast allowance specifically to deal with unforeseen circumstances, such as higher than anticipated direct fire costs," said ministry spokesperson Robert Pauliszyn.
According to provincial statistics, 39 new fires were discovered on Monday, 34 of which were caused by lightning.
One of the province's most hard-hit areas is the Cariboo region, where 13 new fires began between Monday and Tuesday mornings, most of which were caused by lightning. The largest fires in the area include Meldrum Creek, where several fires cover about 7,500 hectares, Alexis Creek, the largest of which covers 7,300 hectares and Dog Creek, which covers 6,200 hectares.
Evacuation orders have been issued across the region, including the Pelican Lake Complex, Bull Canyon and Meldrum Creek. Other areas are under evacuation alert.
The Wildfire Management Branch said hot, dry weather and lightning are expected to continue through the week, challenging crews to get the fires under control. While intermittent rains are forecast throughout the province for the rest of the week, there is no sign of the heavy rains needed to put a damper on the fires.
As a result, Environment Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Environment together issued air quality advisories for much of the B.C. Interior due to ongoing smoky conditions.
"Smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change," reads the special weather statement. "This situation is expected to persist for the rest of the week."
Meanwhile, exhausted firefighters got some relief Tuesday in the form of 230 reinforcements from Alberta, Ontario and the Yukon, as well as 14 additional aircraft.
Two pilots were killed over the weekend when their air tanker crashed while fighting a fire near Lytton. The Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said Tuesday the pilot may have lost control of the plane.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV British Columbia