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Wildfires straining local search and rescue groups in northern B.C.

July 24, 2023
By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Local search and rescue (SAR) groups had a request for financial support read this week by the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) at their July 20 board meeting, citing that resources for SAR were depleted by the intense wildfire season.

The board did vote in favour of issuing $10,000 to North Peace Search and Rescue, South Peace Emergency Response Team, and Tumbler Ridge Search and Rescue to be split equally among the three.

While Area C director Brad Sperling noted that $6 million was just recently released by the province to fund search and rescue, and was in favour of dispensing the additional relief funds – he further cautioned how the PRRD is bound by requisition limits, as the money was drawn from a health services function.

“We need to really watch what we’re doing – we can’t be taking one to another, or maxing ourselves out to the point where we find ourselves in trouble down the road,” Sperling said, as the function is tied to several initiatives.


Pouce Coupe councillor Marcel Woodill is a former president for the South Peace Search and Rescue and noted he’s aware of the funding, but cautioned that it’s not equally distributed among the 80 SAR groups in B.C. – it’s allocated by call volume, and covers less than 50 percent of total operation costs in the province.

“The reason why this is coming forward is because the teams in the north did put out extra time, extra money, that were related directly to the fires,” he said, noting reimbursement rates from the province simply haven’t covered the additional costs.

“We actually had volunteer groups putting out their own funds in order to do this – they were going quite steady,” Woodill said. Volunteers also do an incredible amount of fundraising, he added – everything from selling hot dogs to parking cars.

Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen agreed with budgetary concerns, but commended the SAR groups for putting their own money forward to serve the community, and said the financial ask was reasonable.

“I am in support of this and primarily because this organization is one that they’re willing to put their own skin in the game, their own money to help others,” she said.

Area B director Jordan Kealy was also in favour of giving the additional funds, noting that winter fires have been popularized as ‘zombie fires’ in the media, downplaying the seriousness of the public’s homes being at risk.

“I think year to year, things can change. And if this is a scenario where they need a bit more money when it comes to the funding, I think it’s a vital resource,” he said. “We also have to look at whether or not we’re dealing with wintering fires as well, and the different scenarios that we have throughout the winter to spring.”

Tom Summer is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alaska Highway News. 

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