New B.C. premier ex­pands state of emer­gency over wild­fires

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Bri­tish Columbia’s new gov­ern­ment is ex­tend­ing the state of emer­gency for two more weeks as wild­fires sweep­ing across the prov­ince’s In­te­rior show no signs of slow­ing.

Premier John Hor­gan said his gov­ern­ment’s first pri­or­ity is to sup­port the more than 45,000 peo­ple dis­placed by the fires, which have so far torched more than 3,200 square kilo­me­tres of land.

“It’s clear to me that we need to do more,” Hor­gan told re­porters, speak­ing out­side the leg­is­la­ture in Vic­to­ria on his first full day as premier. “We need to give ad­di­tional sup­port to the com­mu­ni­ties af­fected, and the first re­spon­ders.”

The cur­rent state of emer­gency ex­pires Fri­day and Hor­gan said he re­grets hav­ing to lengthen it.

Hor­gan said peo­ple who are kept out of their homes for more than 14 days will get a sec­ond pay­ment of $600, which will be paid out of a pre­vi­ously an­nounced $100-mil­lion fund ad­min­is­tered by the Cana­dian Red Cross.

“This is un­prece­dented,” he said. “Tra­di­tion­ally, when an emer­gency is de­clared, peo­ple are usu­ally back in their homes within the two-week pe­riod. That may not be the case for many in­di­vid­u­als.”

Some peo­ple are still out of their homes be­cause of flood­ing ear­lier this year, and they are also el­i­gi­ble for the in­creased funds, he said.

Hor­gan said 80 per cent of the peo­ple who have reg­is­tered at wild­fire evac­u­a­tion cen­tres set up across the prov­ince have al­ready re­ceived the first $600 in­stal­ment to help with food, shel­ter and other ex­penses.

Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Mike Farn­worth and Forests Min­is­ter Doug Don­ald­son have been tapped to co-chair a task force as­signed with en­sur­ing the emer­gency re­sponse is not dis­turbed by the tran­si­tion be­tween govern­ments.

Don­ald­son said he spoke with former Forests Min­is­ter John Rus­tad on Tues­day af­ter­noon and he sup­ports a non­par­ti­san ap­proach.

“That’s what peo­ple need and want,” he said. “Safety of the peo­ple first is what our con­cern is, their live­stock, their pets and in­fra­struc­ture.”

Calmer winds have al­lowed good progress build­ing guards around scores of wild­fires cur­rently threat­en­ing com­mu­ni­ties in cen­tral and south­ern B.C., said chief fire in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Kevin Skrep­nek. He said the num­ber of ac­tive fires is de­creas­ing.

Moun­ties in Wil­liams Lake is­sued a state­ment Wednes­day that said a lo­cal res­i­dent had threat­ened to kill fire­fight­ers if they con­tin­ued to con­duct back burn­ing. RCMP said the res­i­dent was with a group of men, one of whom was al­legedly car­ry­ing a hand­gun on his hip.

RCMP lo­cated the 44-yearold res­i­dent, who ac­knowl­edged his state­ments were made in a “time of ex­treme stress.” Charges are not be­ing con­sid­ered, but to mit­i­gate the risk, his firearm has been tem­po­rar­ily seized, po­lice said.

Po­lice ar­rested the 57-yearold man ac­cused of wear­ing the hand­gun and found a loaded, in­se­cure hand­gun and six ri­fles in his ve­hi­cle. His firearms were seized and he has a court ap­pear­ance in early Novem­ber.

The wild­fire ser­vice said Wednes­day that 155 fires are cur­rently burn­ing and 15 of those are threat­en­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Fire in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Navi Saini said a per­son was in­jured while driv­ing in an evac­u­ated area west of Wil­liams Lake.

She said the per­son in­side the ve­hi­cle had been in the area in an at­tempt to fight the fire.

“This in­ci­dent is just an ex­am­ple that shows how the pub­lic get­ting in­volved can im­pact our own op­er­a­tions,” she said.

Of­fi­cials said Wednes­day that a fire that de­stroyed eight homes north of Kelowna is 100 per cent con­tained and res­i­dents of 58 prop­er­ties in Lake Coun­try can im­me­di­ately re­turn home, al­though an evac­u­a­tion alert re­mains in place.

CP PHOTO

The area of Bos­ton Flats, B.C., is pic­tured July 11 af­ter a wild­fire ripped through the area ear­lier in the week. The new Bri­tish Columbia gov­ern­ment is ex­tend­ing the state of emer­gency for an­other two weeks as wild­fires con­tinue to sweep across the prov­ince’s In­te­rior.

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