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“The truth is Canada is a cloud-cuckoo-land, an insufferably rich country governed by idiots, its self-made problems offering comic relief to the ills of the real world out there, where famine and racial strife and vandals in office are the unhappy rule.”
~~ Mordecai Richler

RUSTAD: New approach needed to fight wildfires

MLA John Rustad -- Nechako Lake riding

The 2018 BC wildfire season has already been declared the worst on record.

Firefighters have done an amazing job and we are all thankful for their work.
The most import thing to keep mind is how much did we learn from the 2017 wildfire season, and did we put that knowledge to good use this year?

Unfortunately, we have been seeing a similar pattern to the provincial response as we saw last summer. In particular, the way communities have been managed, coordination between different levels of government, engagement with First Nations and in some cases and unwillingness to embrace new technology.

An independent review of the 2017 wildfire season was conducted, yet the terms of reference ignored the calls by many experts who were telling the government to focus more on forest management, new technology and proper response.  As a result, we are now seeing an eroding of confidence in BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) management and a growing desire by residents to take matters into their own hands.

For example, the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation took matters into their own hands, formed a fire response team, hired an incident manager, equipped themselves and made a difference. They were then brought into the BCWS response on the Shovel Lake fire. Shouldn’t this be a lesson regarding how individual communities and rural area residents could be organized and deployed to help with initial responses to fires?

Time and time again stories emerge from contractors about how they are held back or even threatened by BCWS staff if they try to respond quickly to a new fire. In many cases those first few hours could be the difference between putting out a fire and seeing it become a significant fire of note. How can this be better utilized as part of BC’s initial response?

New technologies such as mass water delivery systems need to be explored, tested and adopted by the BCWS. Protecting residential areas is one use but the potential for other applications in fighting fires. There was a successful utilization of this equipment this year but clearly more needs to be done to better understand and utilize this new technology.

Nobody wants to see people put their lives at risk by staying in an evacuation order area. However, many rural residents, farmers and others are seeing this as their best choice. This year, many people chose to ignore the warnings and stay to fight fires on the south side of Francois Lake. The initial response by the BCWS was to effectively blockade them. They had trouble getting basic supplies of food, fuel and desperately needed firefighting equipment. Tensions were high and the RCMP were caught in the middle trying to do the best job they could.

A better approach needs to be found to support people rather than to try and force them to leave.

All of this leads to the need for the BC government to undertake an independent review of how fires are fought. We are calling on the BC NDP to do the right thing and commission an independent report, or perhaps even a royal commission, so that the BCWS can be more effective in the years to come.

~~ by John Rustad

John Rustad worked in the forest industry in logging and forest management. He started and operated Western Geographic Information Systems Inc. from 1995 to 2002 where he was engaged in forestry consulting. 

John was first elected to the BC Legislature in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009, 2013 and 2017. He served in various capacities including parliamentary secretary for Silviculture, parliamentary secretary for Forests, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. 

He is currently the critic for FLNRORD.


  1. Well said. Having lived for many years, under the wings of the Martin Mars water bombers, I'm well aware of the effectiveness of the "rapid, over-whelming response" to forest fires, as a method of fighting such. From the late '60s, for a forty year period, many factors came together to give Vancouver Island very good forest fire control. 'Passing the torch' from private industry, into the hands of the BC Forest Service has not given us smokeless air and reassuring property protection but rather many empty excuses about a lack of resources and the ravages of oncoming climate change. I wish Mr Rustad luck in trying to use reason to sway so many unreasonable people.


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