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Premier calls for new approach to fighting wildfires in B.C.

After praising the work done in Logan Lake to protect that community, Premier John Horgan said the province's approach to fighting wildfires has to change, advocating for a year-round method and increased mitigation efforts in interface communities
A BC Wildfire Service crew member monitors a nearby fire during the 2021 wildfire season.

Premier John Horgan says B.C. needs to change its approach to fighting wildfires following three devastating seasons in the past four years.

Horgan, whose four-year tenure has included three of the worst wildfire seasons on record, commented on the approach while in Logan Lake on Friday afternoon.

The Tremont Creek wildfire went right to the very edge of the community of Logan Lake, which for the past 18 years has worked toward fire-proofing the town.

Logan Lake Mayor Robin Smith said the community has championed various parts of what has become the FireSmart program. Part of that work has been the introduction of rooftop sprinkler systems, which about 50 per cent of the town has opted to use, according to Smith.

"It's been a lot of work done long before my time by community leaders, not always politicians — just leaders in the community who take on pieces of the puzzle, and that's what it's been for Logan Lake," she said on Friday.

Horgan held a media event at the Logan Lake fire hall on Friday afternoon and praised the work of firefighters and community leaders in keeping the flames away from properties.

"This is a challenge of climate change and we need to adapt and change how we approach these seasons, and that's why we're talking about FireSmart and how it succeeded in Logan Lake," he said.

Horgan has faced criticism for taking a vacation during the peak of the wildfire threat in B.C.

On Aug. 5, the White Rock Lake wildfire ripped through the community of Monte Lake and left a number of properties destroyed.

Although the premier visited Logan Lake, his absence from Monte Lake was noticed and questioned by reporters at the event.

"I can't walk a mile in their shoes, but I have now, this afternoon, flown over the area. In every direction, fire was descending upon Monte Lake.

"We did everything we could, based on the briefings I've had, to suppress the fire," he said.

Horgan said that to date, about $500 million has been spent on this year's wildfire season. But he also said that budgeting, allocation of resources and how wildfire staff work may change as a result of a new approach to fighting fires.

"The way we've fought fires in B.C., historically, going back many years, there's a notional amount of money in the budget, and if you overspend that, you find it through contingencies. I don't believe we should be putting out communities at risk based on contingencies," he said.

Horgan is now advocating for a year-round approach to fighting fires, which would include prevention work being done in so-called interface communities even when nothing is burning.

"That's just got to be the way we go forward. I've seen enough, quite frankly, of how we used to do it," he said.