Government leadership needed to manage safety risks after forest fires

VICTORIA – The provincial government should clarify responsibility and accountability for evaluating hazards and managing risks to public safety after forest fires, the Forest Practices Board repored today.

Once a wildfire is extinguished, most people believe the danger has passed. However, wildfire-related hazards, such as landslides and flooding, can occur months or even years after a fire, putting people, property and infrastructure at risk. At present, there is no agency with the legal responsibility to identify fire risks or repair damage from forest fires in British Columbia.

The board’s special report on post-wildfire hazard assessment and risk management summarizes several hazardous incidents following the 2003 fire season, including a large landslide that damaged highways and destroyed houses north of Creston almost a year after the original fire was reported. The board investigated who is responsible for identifying these fire-related hazards, and for taking action to protect people and property at risk.

“The provincial government should clearly identify which agency is in charge of assessing the risk of damage after fires, and communicating information on potential hazards to the public,” said board chair Bruce Fraser. “The Southern Interior Forest Region is developing a standard operating procedure to ensure risks are identified and affected parties are notified. We encourage government to use this approach as a model, in areas where public safety is at risk following forest fires.”

The board makes the following recommendations, and requests a response from government by Dec. 31, 2006:

  • The provincial government should designate a lead agency (or agencies) for post-wildfire hazard assessment and post-wildfire risk management.
  • The provincial government should complete a standard operating procedure for post-wildfire risk assessment and management, and implement it where appropriate.
  • Where there is an unacceptable risk to people, property or infrastructure after an interface wildfire, the provincial government should explore ways of helping those at risk manage and mitigate the risk.

The Forest Practices Board is an independent public watchdog that reports to the public about compliance with the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) and the achievement of its intent. The board’s main roles under FRPA are:

  • Auditing forest practices of government and licence holders on public lands.
  • Auditing government enforcement of FRPA.
  • Investigating public complaints.
  • Undertaking special investigations of forestry issues.
  • Participating in administrative appeals.
  • Providing reports on board activities, findings and recommendations.

Erik Kaye

Forest Practices Board
Phone: 250-356-1586 or 1-800-994-5899

February 16, 2006