BC Wildfire Management Branch
Our Mandate: Deliver effective wildfire management and emergency response support on behalf of the government of British Columbia to protect life and values at risk and to encourage sustainable, healthy and resilient ecosystems.
Excellence in wildfire management and response services.
Contents Introduction to Wildfire Management Branch Fighting wildfires in British Columbia Responding to wildfires Detecting wildfires Personnel Air support Managing wildfires Wildfire communications
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10
Wildfire Management Branch
Introduction to Wildfire Management Branch As one of Canadaâ€™s largest provinces, British Columbia is around 94 million hectares. Each year, the Wildfire Management Branch responds to an average of 2000 wildfires within the provinceâ€™s grasslands and forests. Some of these fires are located in remote areas and benefit the health of the forest
and grasslands, while others threaten homes and resource values. The Wildfire Management Branchâ€™s mandate is to respond to and manage all wildfires, ensuring that beneficial fires can burn within defined parameters, while unwanted fires are extinguished as safely, quickly and aggressively as possible.
Wildfire Management Branch boundaries In order to be organized to efficiently manage wildfires across such a large area, the province is divided into six fire centres which are further broken down into fire response zones. These regional areas are supported by a provincial coordination centre, as well as a headquarters office.
Fighting wildfires in British Columbia The Wildfire Management Branch (WMB) has over 100 years of fire management experience in B.C., one of the most difficult and challenging wildland firefighting geographies in the country. Wildfire Management Branch works to protect B.C. residents and assets. Those assets include the forested land that is essential to B.C.’s forest industry, which produces approximately $16 billion worth of forest products annually and directly employs over 80,000 workers.
As B.C.’s population grows and more homes are built near wildland areas, the need to ensure public safety has become even more important. The WMB’s biggest challenge — and its highest priority — is the containment of fires that occur where wilderness and urban development meet, an area otherwise known as urban interface.
Wildfire Management Branch statistics Although each fire season varies substantially from the last, the ten year average for number of fires per year is around 2000, while the total hectares burned from those fires is around 140,000.
Total number of fires: Last 10 years 3500 3000
Typically, about half of wildfires in BC are started by lightning and the other half by people.
2000 1500 1000 500 0 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003
Total hectares burned: Last 10 years 350,000 300,000 250,000 200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000 0
Wildfire Management Branch
Responding to wildfires Wildfire Management Branch responds to all fires within its mandate. These fires fall within two general response categories: full response or modified response.
Full response fires
Modified response fires
Full response fires are fires which, if left to burn, would threaten public health and safety, property or other values. WMB aims to contain these fires within 24 hours of detection.
The continued suppression of fires has led to a buildup of forest fuels, which provide the conditions for more intense and severe fires. Wildfire plays an important natural and beneficial role in most ecosystems across British Columbia.
Of the fires that are considered full response, over 92 per cent are contained within 24 hours. This is achieved through quick detection and fast initial attack of the fire. Every year, a small percentage of full response fires grow into very large fires that require additional resources, and specialized incident management teams.
In areas of British Columbia where there are no communities or resource values at risk, Wildfire management Branch may not actively suppress the fire, but, instead, monitor it against pre-determined trigger points. In other instances, parts of a fire will be suppressed to protect key values, while other areas of a fire will be monitored and let to burn naturally, allowing the benefits of fire to be achieved.
Detecting wildfires Technology Wildfire Management Branch is able to detect lightning strikes in 60 milliseconds through using The National Lightning Location System provided by Environment Canada. Weather stations around the province record weather and assist fire management experts on predictions of fire behaviour in any given area. Some fires are detected using infrared technology. This tool can detect the heat from fires before they are visible.
Air patrols Fire managers use the information from lightning strikes to route and schedule air patrols, which help to spot any wildfires that may have resulted from the strikes. Air patrols usually consist of a pilot and trained fire-spotter. They fly predetermined routes over remote areas during periods of high fire danger, or following lightning activity. Commercial and recreational pilots also report wildfires.
People On average, the public reports about 40 percent of all wildfires, which is more than any other single source. The public report fires toll-free to 1-800-663-5555, or *5555 on cell phones. Calls made to these numbers are answered by operators at the Provincial Forest Fire Reporting Centre in Victoria. People are also stationed in lookout stations when weather conditions dictate. These lookout stations are located in areas with extensive visibility of the surrounding areas.
Wildfire Management Branch
Our resources All of our firefighters are highly trained and physically fit. Our crews are mobile and can be stationed anywhere in the province. Crew movements and placement are dependent on fire activity, which could mean deployments across Canada and/or internationally. Firefighters are responsible for extinguishing firesâ€”they remove fuel from the fireâ€™s path to contain it, and use a system of pumps and hoses to extinguish a blaze. BC has over 1000 firefighters.
Personnel Initial attack crews Initial attack firefighters are usually the first crews on the scene of a new fire. In general, these threeperson crews respond to small fires and aid significantly in containing more than 92 percent of fires within the first 24 hours. Initial attack crews typically travel to a fire by truck or by helicopter, but some crews are specially trained for reaching fires even fasterâ€”these are our parattack and rapattack crews. These crews will parachute or rappel into remote areas where fires are burning and where there is no other access.
Unit crews Unit crews are also called sustained action crews, as they are typically utilized on larger fires and they are self sufficient on a fire for up to 72 hours. Each unit crew has 20 firefighters and is able to be broken down depending on the nature of fire activity.
Incident Management Teams Incident Management Teams are predetermined teams that are utilized to manage complex or large fires. Large fires can take weeks to extinguish and require much more support than just firefighters. These teams have experts that lead in the areas of logistics, operations, finance, planning, safety, fire behaviour, and aviation.
Other specialized support staff Our dispatchers communicate with all resources in the air and on the ground, relaying information to ensure their safety. Our air attack officers have expertise in leading airtankers to lay retardant effectively, which helps reduce the spread of fire.
Air support Airtankers Airtankers limit the spread of fires, they do not put them out; that work is done by the firefighters on the ground. When fires are first detected, an airtanker can drop retardant on it to help reduce the fireâ€™s spread and intensity until crews arrive to extinguish them. On larger fires, air tankers use controlled drops, supporting ground control lines, limiting the spread of the fire and cooling hot spots. Airtankers travel in groups of up to three, lead by a spotter plane with an air attack officer on board. An airtanker group can drop up to 15,000 litres of retardant!
Helicopters Helicopters are widely used by Wildfire Management Branch and are very versatile. Helicopters can function in a support capacity by transporting firefighters and by being utilized in mapping a fire perimeter and in infrared scanning operations. Helicopters can also be used to cool hot spots through bucketing. Helicopters use an attached bucket to scoop water from nearby lakes or rivers and to drop it onto critical areas of the fire.
Fire retardants and gels Retardants prematurely release the gaseous fuels stored within logs and debris. These fuels are then unable to burn in areas where the retardant has been dropped. The advantage of using fire retardant and gel over water is that both products continue to remain effective in reducing the intensity of a ground fire even after the water content evaporates. Iron oxide is also used to turn the retardant red, which helps fire management personnel determine where retardant has been previously dropped.
Wildfire Management Branch
Managing wildfires Prioritizing wildfires A dry lightning storm may ignite over 200 fires in a single day within the province. During these periods of extreme fire activity, all of the fires in the province are prioritized, with the first priority always being to protect life and property.
WMB has a process for the strategic allocation of resources. This process helps regional fire centres, as well as the province as a whole, determine when available resources are becoming insufficient to meet the needs of a given area. It also provides criteria for the prioritization of fires throughout the province. Once this process is initiated, regional fire centres are required to prioritize their current wildfire incidents, rated by values at risk and other factors, and submit it provincially. Resource decisions are then made in the provincial coordination centre. Information on all of the fires in the province are compiled and ranked at a on a daily basis to ensure that resources are allocated based on what values are at risk. In some cases, fire officials may determine it safe to allow one fire to burn in order to allow resources to be allocated to another fire with a higher priority, such as one affecting a community. Fires allowed to burn are continually monitored through aerial patrols, and resources would be allocated if the situation changes.
Active fires burning shown as orange flags as of August, 2009
Resource sharing British Columbia is a member of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), which is based in Winnipeg. Through CIFFC, Wildfire Management Branch has the ability to request and receive resources from other provinces in Canada, as well as internationally. Previous resource-sharing agreements are in place to help facilitate this process. These resource sharing agreements allow for British Columbia to import resources during times of need, and to export resources to other jurisdictions during times of lower fire activity.
Budget The current wildfire management budget system is funded through two different accounts: fire preparedness and direct fire. The fire preparedness account is utilized for all costs that remain stable regardless of wildfire activity. The direct fire account supplies the budget for all variable costs, including seasonal staff wages, overtime and standby for all staff, as well as aircraft costs. In the past ten years Wildfire Management has spent an average of 170 million dollars per year. The total budget allocated to Wildfire Management Branch for 2013/14 year is currently set at 88 million dollars.
Legislation and regulation The Wildfire Act and Regulation came into effect on March 31, 2005 and is what is called stand-alone legislation. The legislation is dedicated exclusively to wildfire protection in British Columbia. The key objective of the Wildfire Act is to specify responsibilities and obligations with respect to fire use, prevention, control and rehabilitation.
Training All Wildfire Management Branch firefighters are required to pass a fitness test every year to ensure they are able to fight wildland fires safely and effectively. To ensure the safety of our employees, firefighting and safety training is provided to all employees prior to being assigned to fight wildfires. Each new recruit is required to attend a seven-day training program with a classroom and field component. This training includes areas of fire weather, fire behaviour, fundamentals of firefighting and fireline safety. Returning firefighters are required to attend annual recurrency training at the start of every fire season.
Wildfire Management Branch
Wildfire communications Fire ranks The fire ranking system that Wildfire Management Branch uses enables firefighters to communicate a summarized assessment of fire behaviour. There are six ranks in the system. A Rank 1 fire (left) is a smouldering ground fire. It has no open flame and produces a white smoke. The ranks continually increase to a Rank 6, which would be a blow-up conflagration. Rank 6 fires have black columns of smoke, violent fire behaviour and long range fire spotting.
Forest fire danger rating The purpose of the fire danger rating is to keep the public informed about the risk of wildfires, and to indicate the degree of fire risk in any area. In times of moderate, high, or extreme fire danger rating some industrial activities may be restricted. Information regarding temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and precipitation is collected from our networked automated weather stations. The fire weather indices calculated from these stations are used to calculate the forest fire danger rating.
Fire information Each of our regional fire centres has a fire information officer. Wildfire Management Branchâ€™s fire information officers are responsible for ensuring that accurate, timely and accessible information about wildfires is made available to the public. Our communications team has lead the way forward with innovative use of social media to communicate in the most rapid way possible. Because of the diversity within British Columbia, Wildfire Management Branch still uses traditional means to communicate. Media interviews and releases, website and phone line updates, as well as community meetings are still widely used within Wildfire Management Branchâ€™s communications network.
For more information: www.bcwildfire.ca