State of emergency declared in B.C. over wildfires less than a month after one for COVID-19 ends

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Less than a month after B.C. ended its record-breaking state of emergency due to COVID-19, the province is entering a new one.

This time, however, it’s not because of the pandemic but because of wildfires in the province.

“Based on the advice of emergency management and wildfire officials, in my briefing last night on the worsening weather, I am declaring a provincial state of emergency,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in a news conference Tuesday.

“It will address the potential for a mass evacuation scenario and provide our government with the means to secure the accommodation spaces necessary to support the evacuees.”

Difficult weather in B.C.’s Interior is on the way over the next few days and both firefighting resources and emergency accommodations for evacuees are tight, Farnworth said.

“What is forecast may lead to more severe fire behaviour, and the potential for more evacuations,” he said.

Officials have been advising residents under evacuation alerts to consider lining up their own evacuation accommodations if possible.

“Contact friends and family to ensure you have somewhere to go, should the worst happen,” Farnworth said.

“While the province will continue to support anyone in need of emergency support services, having a plan … (shows) that I care for those who have no other option.”

He also reminded people across the province to clean up their properties if possible and clear combustible materials.

“Whether that’s trimming trees, clearing grass and gutters and helping your neighbours, you’re not only helping to protect your property and those of your community, but also the firefighters who may be called on to protect it,” Farnworth said.

There are currently more than 3,000 firefighters on the wildfire frontlines.

Clint Chapman of the BC Wildfire Service also spoke at the news conference. He said that a total of 300,000 hectares of the province have already been burned, whereas the average for this time of year in B.C. is about 100,000 hectares.

“We are expecting what we call a ‘subtropical feed’ coming up from the United States which is going to bring significant wind into the South Coast Fire Centre and to the Interior of the province,” he said.

The outlook isn’t good, he said, and fire officials are relieved to know that 500 more personnel will be joining the frontlines in the next 10 days.

“What this means is that we are going to see our efforts on the fires that are on the landscape challenged, our control lines will be challenged and we have the potential to see significant fire behaviour across the province and particularly in the southern half of the province where the conditions remain extremely dry, and extremely volatile,” Chapman said.

Farnworth defended the fact that he didn’t declare a state of emergency earlier, even as some made public calls for him to do so. His decision to call the state of emergency now is based on the advice of professional experts and the hazardous weather they warned of, he said.

“Everything that we can possibly do in terms of securing resources is being done, and that’s been in place since this this fire season started, and it started early.”

Farnworth said he doesn’t have an estimate of how much will need to be spent fighting wildfires this year.

“In terms of money spent what I’ll say at this point is that we spend what’s required to fight the fires,” he said.

The state of emergency goes into effect at midnight, and gives the minister power to assure that the province will have enough accommodations available if a massive evacuation order is put in place.

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