Canada Wildfires Renew Calls for a National Fire Service

Hundreds of blazes have overwhelmed local resources and renewed calls for a national firefighting service in Canada, where wildfire emergency response management is handled by provinces and territories.

Richard Cannings, a member of Parliament with the left-leaning New Democratic Party, called an emergency debate in Parliament this week to discuss the state of the wildfires.

“It’s clear that we need to re-evaluate the federal role in wildfire protection and response and develop a more proactive process instead of the present reactive one,” Mr. Cannings said.

Canada’s system usually relies on the provinces and territories sharing resources. But the widespread nature of the current fires has made that impossible and led to shortfalls. As a result, firefighters from the United States, South Africa, France, Australia and New Zealand, along with members of the Canadian Armed Forces, are supporting local fire crews.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a message on Twitter he had spoken to President Biden by phone on Wednesday and had thanked him for the American firefighters on the scene and for the additional help from the United States.

Parks Canada, the national parks service, has a firefighting department, but otherwise the country has never had a national firefighting force, said Brian Wiens, managing director of Canada Wildfire, an organization that brings together provincial agencies and research institutions to study fire management policy.

He said when Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center was established four decades ago, one of the founding assumptions was that “you wouldn’t have everybody in crisis at once.”

“This is what we’re seeing this year, is that everybody has shorter resources, hardly anybody can free any up, and so we’re really struggling,” said Mr. Wiens.

Increasing the capacity in the existing system by funding more firefighters or establishing wildfire building codes like those in California should be prioritized, said Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University in London, Ontario.

“This nationally coordinated system is a good, effective system,” he said. “Because we’re having an extraordinary year, I don’t see why you would change a system that works almost every year — and it’s being really stretched this year — with a different system.”

Bill Blair, public safety minister, said some needs were being met through other channels, like the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center, which coordinates the flow of firefighters, equipment and resources on behalf of the federal government and provinces. The agency was recently able to recruit six water bombers from Montana to be dispatched to Nova Scotia, and when the situation improved there, to then be redeployed to Quebec, he said.

“They’ve been doing some really outstanding work in coordinating the delivery of people, equipment and water bombers to different parts of the country,” Mr. Blair said. “That type of efficient use of limited equipment is very important in our firefighting efforts.”

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