April 23rd, 2024

B.C. officials to give drought update as province adopts new wildfire prediction tool

By The Canadian Press on March 18, 2024.

British Columbia is introducing technology to improve wildfire prediction and decision-making even as the association representing Canadian insurance companies warns residents about the potential for another destructive fire season.The Elephant Hill wildfire burns in the distance near Clinton, as seen from behind a mountain on Kamloops Lake in Savona, B.C., on July 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – British Columbia is introducing technology to improve wildfire prediction and decision-making even as the association representing Canadian insurance companies warns residents about the potential for another destructive fire season.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a statement encouraging residents to prepare for “some potentially difficult months ahead,” following the worst-ever wildfire season that destroyed hundreds of homes last year.

The BC Wildfire Service map shows several small blazes sparked in the last few days as the province experiences above-normal temperatures, while nearly 100 active wildfires are still smoldering as holdovers from last year.

In an effort to combat worsening fire seasons, the B.C. government says it’s launching predictive software to give decision-makers more information, faster.

The Forests Ministry says in a statement the addition of the technology follows successful trials of the software in the Coastal and Kamloops fire centres last year, and it will be introduced to the rest of the province throughout this year.

It says the software uses existing maps and weather models and information about forest fuels, then allows BC Wildfire Service personnel to submit their observations from the field to help with real-time decision-making.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston says every second counts in the fight against wildfires, and the technology will help officials make critical decisions faster.

Greg Boyachuk, senior wildfire officer of operations for the Coastal Fire Centre, says he saw the benefits of the software when lightning strikes caused more than 100 new blazes in four days last August.

He says a fire behaviour specialist used the software to “triage” the new fires, producing predictions for how much they would spread over the next 12 hours.

“That allowed us to identify which wildfires were a priority for initial attack resources based on their potential to spread and threaten communities,” he says in the statement.

“As an operational decision-maker, I am thrilled we are investing in broader use of this technology and look forward to more learning.”

Boyachuk says it took the software 15 minutes to generate the predictions, compared with a previous “manual process” that could take several hours.

The decision to adopt the technology aligns with feedback from B.C.’s expert task force on emergencies, the statement says.

Collaborative efforts with jurisdictions using similar technologies, including California and Australia, have allowed the BC Wildfire Service to quickly expand the use of the software, it adds.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2024.

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