B.C. state of emer­gency ends, dan­ger not over

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Linda GIVETASH

I don’t want any­one to be un­der the il­lu­sion that means the end of fire sea­son... (but it) is go­ing to def­i­nitely sig­nif­i­cantly calm down the ac­tiv­ity we’re see­ing out there.

VAN­COU­VER — The pro­vin­cial state of emer­gency has been lifted in Bri­tish Columbia more than two months af­ter thou­sands of res­i­dents were chased from their homes and hun­dreds of build­ings were lost in fe­ro­cious wild­fires that set records for de­struc­tion.

The state of emer­gency that ex­pired at mid­night Friday was de­clared July 7 af­ter dozens of out-of-con­trol wild­fires broke out in B.C.’s In­te­rior. At the peak of the dis­as­ter, al­most 50,000 res­i­dents were stay­ing with fam­ily mem­bers or liv­ing in shel­ters, ho­tels and camp­grounds.

Forests Min­is­ter Doug Donaldson said Friday that fire and emer­gency crews along with vol­un­teers pro­vided a “phe­nom­e­nal ef­fort” through the fire sea­son that con­tin­ues to threaten some parts of the prov­ince.

“We still have cer­tain areas in cer­tain re­gions fac­ing volatile sit­u­a­tions and we’re con­tin­u­ing to ac­tively and vig­or­ously fight the fires in those areas,” he said, adding peo­ple should re­main pre­pared and fol­low di­rec­tions of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties if fires flare.

For areas re­turn­ing to reg­u­lar life, Donaldson said re­cov­ery ef­forts to get log­ging, tourism, agri­cul­ture and other in­dus­tries run­ning are al­ready un­der­way.

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.

Donaldson said $21 mil­lion of that fund has been de­liv­ered to date to ap­prox­i­mately 52,000 peo­ple.

Some of those res­i­dents lost their homes. Emer­gency Man­age­ment BC said 509 struc­tures were lost and 229 of those were res­i­dences.

Over 11,900 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.

There are still 155 fires burn­ing in B.C., and 11 evac­u­a­tion or­ders are in place af­fect­ing more than 3,000 peo­ple.

Chief fire in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Kevin Skrep­nek said cool­ing tem­per­a­tures and rain in the forecast should re­duce the sever­ity of those blazes.

“Monday is ex­pected to see rain prov­ince wide, which is some­thing I haven’t had the plea­sure of say­ing in a cou­ple of months now,” he said. “I don’t want any­one to be un­der the il­lu­sion that means the end of fire sea­son... but cer­tainly in terms of ex­treme fire be­hav­iour, I sus­pect that shift Sun­day,

— Kevin Skrep­nek, Chief fire in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer

if that does in­deed arise as fore­casted, is go­ing to def­i­nitely sig­nif­i­cantly calm down the ac­tiv­ity we’re see­ing out there.”

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 $518 mil­lion on fight­ing the fires so far this year.

The last time the prov­ince called a state of emer­gency was in Au­gust 2003, also in re­sponse to wild­fires.

Re­cov­ery ef­forts are be­ing fo­cused on peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties, the econ­omy, en­vi­ron­ment, in­fra­struc­ture and re­con­struc­tion – areas Donaldson said are based on best prac­tices de­vel­oped fol­low­ing the Fort McMur­ray fire.

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.

The min­is­ter said the prov­ince will also be con­duct­ing a re­view of the sea­son to make rec­om­men­da­tions for changes next year.

A re­view of the de­struc­tive wild­fires in B.C. in 2003 made rec­om­men­da­tions for re­mov­ing for­est fu­els around com­mu­ni­ties as a pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure, Donaldson said, and the up­com­ing re­view will also look into how that played into this sea­son.

“We know that not as much work was done in that re­gard due to a lack of re­sources from the last govern­ment so we will de­ter­min­ing whether that had an im­pact on the sever­ity of the fires this sea­son,” Donaldson said.

CP FILE PHOTO

B.C. Wild­fire Ser­vice fire­fighter Jor­dain Lamothe takes a brief break while con­duct­ing a con­trolled burn to help pre­vent the Fin­lay Creek wild­fire from spread­ing near Peach­land on Sept. 7.

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