B.C. lifts state of emer­gency over wild­fires

But dan­ger isn’t over: prov­ince

Journal Pioneer - - CANADA -

The Bri­tish Columbia gov­ern­ment is lift­ing a provin­cial state of emer­gency de­clared more than two months ago be­fore what would become the prov­ince’s worst fire sea­son on record.

The dec­la­ra­tion that ex­pires at mid­night Fri­day was made July 7 af­ter dozens of out-of­con­trol wild­fires broke out in B.C.’s In­te­rior, forc­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from their homes.

The state of emer­gency al­lowed for bet­ter co-or­di­na­tion be­tween agen­cies responding to the fires and to pub­lic safety needs, and a $100-mil­lion fund was made avail­able to sup­port thou­sands of evac­uees. Over 11,700 square kilo­me­tres of land has been charred since April 1, which the BC Wild­fire Ser­vice said is the largest area burned in the prov­ince’s recorded his­tory. “While the ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers of the provin­cial state of emer­gency are no longer re­quired, the wild­fire sea­son is not over,” the gov­ern­ment said in a news re­lease Fri­day. “It is vi­tal that the pub­lic re­main pre­pared and fol­low the con­tin­ued di­rec­tion of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties”

There are still 153 fires burn­ing in B.C., and 11 evac­u­a­tion or­ders are in place af­fect­ing more than 3,000 peo­ple. There are an­other 23 evac­u­a­tion alerts for com­mu­ni­ties in the prov­ince, mean­ing that more than 5,700 peo­ple have been told to pre­pare to leave at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

At the peak of the cri­sis, Canadian Armed Forces mem­bers and equip­ment were de­ployed to sup­port evac­u­a­tion ef­forts and re­lieve the RCMP, which also in­creased its staffing in af­fected ar­eas.

The wild­fire ser­vice said it has spent more than $510 mil­lion on fight­ing the flames so far this year as fires con­tinue to burn out of con­trol in south­east­ern B.C.

The last time the prov­ince called a state of emer­gency was in Au­gust 2003, also in re­sponse to wild­fires, but that pe­riod only lasted six weeks.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment cre­ated a new ad hoc cab­i­net com­mit­tee to co-or­di­nate its re­sponse to the fires, in­clud­ing re­cov­ery and re­build­ing ef­forts. The com­mit­tee in­cludes the min­is­ters of jus­tice, na­tional de­fence, Indige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs, and Pub­lic Safety Canada.

In an ef­fort to pre­vent fires, an off-road ve­hi­cles ban was put in place af­fect­ing Crown land in the Cari­boo, Kam­loops and South­east fire cen­tres. Camp­fire bans also re­main in ef­fect for the south­ern parts of the prov­ince.

The fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments an­nounced a $20-mil­lion fund would be made avail­able to farm­ers to help re­place lost breed­ing an­i­mals and re­store dam­aged lands, while ad­di­tional money would be pro­vided to small busi­nesses that lost rev­enue due to a drop in tourism, evac­u­a­tions and road clo­sures.

CP PHOTO

A B.C. Wild­fire Ser­vice fire­fighter looks on while con­duct­ing a con­trolled burn to help pre­vent the Fin­lay Creek wild­fire from spread­ing near Peach­land, B.C., on Thurs­day, Sept. 7.

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