The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) has spent $105.3 million fighting fires so far this season, with half of its allocated budget spent well before the start of the peak fire season.
The service provided the numbers in a statement to Breaking: on Monday. The total BCWS budget for the 2023 fire season is $204 million. In 2022, the budget was $199 million.
“However, BC Wildfire Service has the authority to spend these amounts on suppression activities as needed, and that will be financed, if necessary, by government contingencies,” the Ministry of Forestry said in a statement.
“Wildfire threats to communities will be addressed and not constrained by budget.”
Costs, just two weeks after June, are way ahead of trends in recent years.
Over the past 10 years, firefighting costs have averaged $316.9 million for an entire season.
The devastating 2021 fire season, which devastated the village of Lytton, cost more than $100 million in early July.
BC’s most expensive firefighting seasons were 2017 and 2018, when the county spent $649 million and $615 million, respectively.
Those were also the most destructive wildfire years in BC history, with 12,160 square miles of land burned in 2017 and 12,543 square miles in 2018.
More than 430 wildfires have been reported in the province this year. The vast majority have been in the Prince George Fire Center, which roughly encompasses BC’s northeastern district, where more than 7,550 square miles of land have burned so far — more than half of its historic season high.
July and August are typically peak seasons in the province, with the most destruction and cost.
Long-term costs rise
The provincial government has increased the budget for the BCWS as the agency moves to a year-round service, describing it as “the largest investment in the history of the wildfire service.”
The 2022 budget announced approximately $359 million in new funding, including the doubling of funding for wildfire prevention services such as FireSmart and community resilience programs.
a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included a study on BC’s wildfires in 2017, which found that the wildfires potentially burned as much as 11 times more land compared to what they would have without the impact of human-induced climate change.
The government has cited the effects of climate change as a reason for the increased severity of wildfires and the need to spend more on short-term firefighting and long-term prevention.
The 2023 BC budget includes more than $1.1 billion over the next three years to combat climate change.
Check the Breaking: climate dashboard for live updates on wildfire smoke and active fires across the country. Set your location for air quality information and to find out how today’s temperatures compare to historical trends.