The federal government said it’s preparing for what could be a challenging summer of wildfires in parts of the country as several ministers gathered in Vancouver to outline how funds will support those already affected.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said it’s advancing $416 million to rebuild homes and businesses lost in the 2021 fires, including in the devastated village of Lytton, in response to a provincial request for disaster financial assistance.
More than three dozen interim housing units will be part of $24 million in funding for the Lytton First Nation, he said.
Blair, who first announced the funding Thursday, said the Lytton fire revealed numerous vulnerabilities that the federal and provincial governments need to respond to.
In the Canadian firefighting effort, more than $500 million from the federal budget will be used to train more firefighters, help communities buy firefighting equipment, develop a wildfire satellite monitoring system and support First Nations in emergency planning, he said.
“The work we are doing together is important, but it’s not just simply a matter of spending money,” he said.
“There is work to do in planning, and preparation, soil remediation, and working to help people restore their sense of pride and security within their own communities.”
Last year’s wildfires, heat waves, flooding and landslides show B.C. has been on the front line of challenging natural disasters and the partnership between the federal and provincial governments ensures they can respond in the right way, Blair said.
The federal government earmarked $5 billion in Disaster Financial Assistance for B.C. after November’s floods and the province has entered requests totalling more than $4 billion, he said. Under the arrangement, 15 per cent of the money requested is to be invested in mitigation, prevention and adaptation efforts.
Another $8.4 million in Budget 2022 is pegged to help B.C. First Nations prepare for and respond to wildfires.
Wayne Schnitzler of the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society encouraged the government to focus on supporting communities in the highest hazard zones and train Indigenous firefighters who are keen to protect their own communities.
Judi Beck, regional director general for the Pacific Forestry Centre, warned that forecasts show fire activity could increase this summer, despite lingering snow cover delaying the onset of the fire season across parts of Canada.
“The outlook is significant for fire activity from British Columbia through western Ontario,” Beck said.
– Amy Smart, The Canadian Press