State of emergency declared in British Columbia following forest fires

VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety has declared a provincial state of emergency in the face of growing threat of forest fires to prepare for possible mass evacuations and help secure homes that evacuees might need.

Mike Farnworth said he made the decision based on information provided by authorities that the weather conditions will lead to more severe fire behavior and the potential for additional evacuations.

“At a briefing last night I learned that we were going to face a few days of very difficult indoor weather conditions,” Farnworth said in a statement.

The state of emergency goes into effect Wednesday and gives government agencies, the fire marshal and the RCMP the power to take whatever action they deem necessary to fight wildfires and protect people and communities. .

In addition to guaranteeing accommodation, it allows the government to impose travel restrictions if necessary or to requisition planes or trucks from the private sector, although Farnworth has said the private sector has already provided the necessary resources.

He said the declaration does not unlock additional firefighting resources on the ground, but he wants to assure BC residents that the province is deploying all available personnel and equipment to fight the fires.

More than 3,000 firefighters and support staff fight the fires. Some have come from Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec, while around 100 firefighters are expected to arrive from Mexico on Saturday. Officials are also in talks with Australia.

“We have reached a critical point,” Farnworth said at a press conference.

Nearly 300 fires were burning in the province on Tuesday, several of which were encroaching on communities that issued evacuation orders or alerts.

The government said more than 40 evacuation orders affected about 5,700 people or nearly 2,900 properties in the province. There were also 69 evacuation alerts affecting just under 33,000 people and approximately 16,000 properties. Alerts tell people they need to be ready to leave their homes on short notice.

A boil water advisory has been issued by the Central Kootenay Regional District for users of the Fauquier water system on the east side of Lower Arrow Lake. The system includes the Needles Ferry disembarkation. The district says the notice is due to the need to bypass the water treatment plant to increase system capacity and meet demand for wildfire mitigation efforts.

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the BC Wildfire Service, said crews were working tirelessly to put out the fires, but warned it could get worse.

Strong winds are expected to come from the United States, fanning flames in the interior of British Columbia over the next 48 hours. No humidity is expected, and the southeast could see another batch of lightning that will ignite more fires, he said.

This means that firefighting efforts and control lines will be called into question.

“We have the potential to see significant fire behavior across the province, particularly in the southern half of the province where conditions remain extremely dry and extremely volatile,” he said.

Shortly after the press conference, the BC Wildfire Service issued a Tuesday through Thursday wind advisory in the interior, southern interior and southeastern British Columbia.

It’s too early to make a direct comparison, but conditions resemble those of 2017 and 2018, the worst wildfire seasons on record in British Columbia, Chapman said.

Forest fires have already burned more than 3,000 square kilometers of land, about 2,000 square kilometers more than the 10-year average for this time of year.

There have been 1,145 fires started so far, including 145 in the last week alone.

Emergency Management BC encouraged residents of affected areas to prepare emergency take-out bags, establish evacuation plans and monitor local authorities for the latest updates.

The BC government has come under fire for not triggering a state of emergency sooner. That continued on Tuesday with the British Columbia Green Party calling the declaration a necessary but expected milestone.

“It’s hard to understand why the BC NDP is only acting now, as local officials and experts have been calling for a state of emergency for weeks and some are taking matters into their own hands in their jurisdiction », Declared the leader of the Greens Sonia Furstenau. A declaration.

As late as Friday, Premier John Horgan said there would be little benefit to declaring a provincial state of emergency as he said all available resources were already in place.

Farnworth defended the about-face on Tuesday, saying he made the statement based on advice he received Monday night from officials at the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC, regarding the worsening forecast.

“This is how these decisions are made, it’s no different from 2017 and 2018.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 20, 2021

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