Technology aids BC wildfire fight

July 31, 2020

By: The Working Forest Staff

NEWS/GOV.BC — A new research chair at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) will help chart a new course in wildfire prediction and response in British Columbia.

Driven by technology and expanded collaboration with emergency responders, communities, and industry, the British Columbia Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management, and Fire Science will work toward an improved ability to forecast, prevent and respond to wildfires emergencies.

“Interior communities have worked together to advocate for additional research and capacity to help better understand wildfires, in order to protect their residents, infrastructure, and economies. We’re answering the call to action with this research position,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development. “This is one more step we’re taking to help keep British Columbians safe.”

Provincial funding of $5 million for the endowment will pay for the position, hosted by TRU at its Kamloops campus. The campus is near Emergency Management BC (EMBC) and BC Wildfire Service operational centres and is supported by high-speed fibre optic connections and key transportation routes.

In part, the chair’s research will support wildfire data modeling in the heart of wildfire country. It will also help explore the relationship between climate change and its effect on wildfire risk.

“Applied research is a critical tool to help build our capacity to understand and address the challenges of ecological threats in B.C.,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. “This new research chair adds to the world-class research done at B.C.’s post-secondary institutions and will create new collaborations, including with local First Nations to integrate traditional ecological knowledge. Their intimate and longstanding relationship to the land has given them unique, local knowledge about managing wildfires.”

The first appointment to the research chair at TRU is anticipated later this year.

“This new position will bring together experts to advance the use of technology in emergency management,” said Michelle Mungall, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness. “Our province needs innovative solutions to help minimize the threats that wildfires pose to our people and economy.”

In 2017, wildfires and floods cost the province $1.6 billion, prompting an independent review by former MLA George Abbott and Maureen Chapman, hereditary Chief of the Sq’ewá:lxw (Skawahlook) First Nation in 2018.

“This effort shows that by working with various partners, universities can help address the complex issues facing local communities. I would like to thank our research partners – the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) ­– and the mayors of Prince George, Kelowna, and Kamloops who were integral in putting this forward. Continued collaboration with these partners and others, including First Nations, BC Wildfire Service, and EMBC, will ensure B.C. has the latest and best information to prevent and respond to wildfires,” said Brett Fairbairn, president, Thompson Rivers University.

“Kamloops is the ideal location for this research position. Not only do we have a natural vulnerability to forest fires, and in particular urban interference fires, we also have had a great deal of experience dealing with evacuations and recovery. This is good news for Kamloops and for British Columbia,” said Ken Christian, mayor of Kamloops.

“The devastating floods and wildfires that we’ve experienced in recent years illustrate that climate change impacts us all. This research will benefit the entire province. This chair has been established through a unique collaboration between the three municipalities and three universities and I’d like to thank the provincial government for seeing the value in this multi-stakeholder initiative,” said Colin Basran, mayor of Kelowna.

“The 2017 and 2018 wildfires brought the realities of our current ecological climate home to Prince George. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to advocate for the establishment of this research work and look forward to seeing our community, local First Nations, and the research partners at UNBC and UBCO contributing to this important initiative,” said Lyn Hall, mayor of Prince George.

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