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'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure': Experts say a national fire service could help battle wildfires

In an unprecedented start to wildfire season, crews in Canada were quickly overwhelmed and needed help from firefighters from other countries.

Experts say if Canada had its own national fire service, it could help prevent and put out fires across the country without relying on international aid and often overwhelmed provincial fire forces.

"A national air fleet, so we can move resources ahead of time when we see those extreme fire episodes coming and to be better positioned to deal with the fire load," Mike Flannigan, professor of wildfire science and the B.C. Innovation Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science told CTV National News.

Flannigan says when wildfires are sparked and concentrated in one province it can "quickly" overwhelm its provincial fire crews.

As of Tuesday evening, fires are burning across the country with more than 150 burning in Quebec alone. The smoke from the fires is causing poor air quality across the country and in the U.S. as it wafts south.

Bill Blair, Canada's emergency preparedness minister, said on Tuesday the current forecast for the next few months indicates the potential for higher-than-normal fire activity. According to Blair, without changes in the weather, this fire season could be the worst Canada's ever seen.

One way to mitigate the impacts of wildfires on Canadians is by gaining control of the blaze and extinguishing it as soon as possible, but Flannigan says the efforts are not preventative.

"We tend to also be reactive, we get the fire episode and then we place that call to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and it takes three days for that equipment to reach the fire line," he said.

To be better prepared, Flannigan suggested establishing 20 crews of about 20 people each—all prepared to go where fires need to be snuffed out.

"These boots would be well-trained and ready to go and arrive in those locations where we expect new fire weather and new fire starts and be ready to roll as soon as the fires arrive," he said.

Bruce Blackwell, principal of B.A. Blackwell and Associates Ltd. told CTV National News that the cost of a national fire crew plays a factor in its legitimacy.

"How often are we going to see these kind of fire seasons and how much money are we willing to spend to prepare for those fire seasons," he said. "We have to think strategically about how we create resources that can cross-pollinate across natural disasters. Can service floods, can service fires, can service hurricanes."

Flannigan says by preventing costly disasters like the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta. and Lytton, B.C., the money saved could help pay for a national fire service.

"This will save millions of dollars—the old adage, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' So prevention and mitigation saves in the long run," he said. 


With files from CTV National News' Adrian Ghobrial


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated professor Mike Flannigan's title. Top Stories

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