British Columbia, June 25 (BNA): Canada is grappling with the worst start to a wildfire season on record, but recruiting firefighters is becoming increasingly difficult due to tight labor markets and the challenging nature of the job, provincial officials said.
Limited resources could threaten Canada’s ability to put out fires, which are expected to grow more ferocious in the future as a result of climate change caused by fossil fuels, potentially causing more harm to communities and disrupting the country’s oil, gas, mining and lumber industries.
A Reuters survey of all 13 provinces and territories showed Canada employs about 5,500 wildland firefighters, not including the remote Yukon Territory, which did not respond to requests for information.
That’s about 2,500 fewer firefighters than needed, said Mike Flanigan, a professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia who specializes in wildfires.
“It’s hard work, it’s hot work, it’s smokin’ work, and there are real issues with the long-term health effects,” Flanigan said. “It is getting more and more difficult to recruit and retain personnel.”
This year Ontario extended the application period, ramped up marketing efforts and began covering training costs to secure more recruits. Applications were being denied in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, officials said, and Albertans had to do several rounds of recruitment to fill the ranks.
Canadian provinces and territories share crews and equipment as needed and call on international partners and the military in times of greatest need. But this year, record fires broke out in the east and west simultaneously, stoking competition for firefighters and aircraft.
“This was the worst-case scenario that everyone feared – multiple areas of the country burning at the same time,” said Scott Tingley, Nova Scotia’s director of forest protection.
Wildfire crews work 12 to 14 hours a day, up to two weeks at a time, in smoky, stressful environments, often in remote wilderness areas.
Seasonal work, longer fire seasons, and a non-competitive basic wage — which ranges from C$30 an hour in British Columbia to C$18 an hour in Manitoba — also discourage people.
“We’re in competition with a whole host of other labor markets. It’s physically demanding and it’s mentally taxing,” said Rob Schweitzer, executive director of the BC Wildfire Service.
A week of cold weather and rain has eased some fires across Canada, but 6.5 million hectares (16 million acres), an area the size of Lithuania, has already burned this year and the unusually hot weather is expected to return.
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