Canadian Wildfire Act Streamlines Regulations in Effort to Improve Response

VICTORIA (CP) -- Forest users will be made more accountable under a new act the government says improves wildfire management policies and streamlines regulation.

The Wildfire Act, approved by government to be brought into force on March 31, fulfils recommendations from both the B.C. auditor general's 2001 report and a review of the 2003 forest fires that swept through the Okanagan and B.C. Interior.

The act will move fire-related provisions out of the Forest Practices Code and into new, stand-alone legislation, defining specific responsibilities of all users of the forest with respect to fire use, prevention, control operations and rehabilitation, the government said Monday.

The act sets out government's right to control fire situations to protect the public, such as declaring areas as restricted and limiting activities within them, including evacuating specified areas.

It also strengthens the province's ability to fine forest companies for starting fires by continuing operations in unsafe, hot, dry conditions. They can be fined up to $100,000 and can be ordered to pay for damages.

The provincial government committed to implementing all of Gary Filmon's recommendations from the firestorm review.

It has added 100 more firefighters and two new firefighting aircraft, re-emphasized prescribed burning and selective tree removal to reduce fuel loads, expanded the Firesmart program and provided $3 million to communities to improve fire management.

All this work is being done in an effort to prevent the kind of devastation B.C. communities suffered in August 2003. Fires in the Okanagan and the Interior destroyed more than 300 homes and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Kelowna and Barriere.