As wildfire activity increases in central British Columbia, Premier David Eby will return Monday to one of the hardest-hit areas of the province.
Eby, along with Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma, will visit Kamloops and Salmon Arm in the province’s southern interior on Monday to meet with those affected by this season’s devastating fires.
Before a press conference from Kamloops at 9:30 a.m. PT, Eby announced that a new task force would be created to analyze lessons learned and best practices around responding to wildfires, droughts, heat, floods and other emergencies that affect the province.
“We must continually update and improve our prevention and response measures to the near-constant series of emergencies we face as a result of climate change,” Eby said. in a sentence.
The statement did not say who would join the panel or when, only that it would be made up of experts.
Eby said some of his main tasks will be figuring out how best to collaborate with communities and First Nations, incorporating municipal firefighting and providing support to the front lines.
Local knowledge needs to be harnessed, says PM
One of the central conflicts of this wildfire season occurred in the Shuswap region of British Columbia in August, when residents who defied evacuation orders to save structures criticized the province for not being agile enough to support them.
Eby said as he toured fire-affected areas this summer he learned that the efforts of people on the ground in their communities must be part of a coordinated provincial response.
“We could be doing a better job harnessing local knowledge and experience when it comes to preventing and fighting wildfires,” he said.
The task force will also evaluate how to provide timely access to financial support and short-term housing for residents forced to flee their homes due to evacuation orders.
“We owe it to all those who fought the fires, left their homes behind and opened their hearts to feed and shelter evacuees and find ways to better support them as climate disasters get worse and more frequent,” Eby said.
More orders, alerts
Prime Minister’s tour arrives as several evacuation alerts were extended in the Fort St. James and Vanderhoof areas due to the forest fires burning nearby.
The major fire, which the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) says is now 250 square kilometers in size, is burning about 100 kilometers southwest of Prince George.
Also on Sunday an evacuation order was expanded to properties in a remote area about 80 kilometers northwest of Prince George due to the Large Beaver Lake Wildfirewhich now has a size of 147 square kilometers, according to the BCWS.
The wildland fire service said Sunday that the weather in the Prince George Fire Center area, which spans the northeastern quarter of the province, is expected to be hot, dry and windy.
The BCWS said strong gusts of wind are possible this week and, along with “persistent dry conditions,” it expects increased wildfire activity and smoky conditions “across the region.”
“People near existing wildfires are encouraged to remain alert and aware of the current wildfire situation, as wildfires are dynamic and conditions can change rapidly,” the BCWS said.
There are still more than 400 wildfires burning in the province and more than 22,500 square kilometers of land have burned so far in an unprecedented fire season.
#BCWildfire continues to respond to the Spetch Creek Fire, located 2 km south of Owl Lake in the Pemberton area. A column of smoke is very visible in the area.
Aviation resources and 11 personnel are on scene. This fire is burning in steep terrain, resources are acting… pic.twitter.com/brO6coVIS5
The provincial government says Eby and Ma will meet with residents, local authorities, volunteers and BCWS members on Monday.
At the Kamloops Fire Centre, where provincial officials are visiting, more than 1,900 square kilometers have burned this season after lightning sparked fires across the region.
Meanwhile, Okanagan Valley officials said Sunday they do not expect to lift any evacuation orders or alerts related to the out-of-control McDougall Creek wildfire.
In an update Sunday, Central Okanagan Emergency Operations said hundreds of properties remain evacuated, including 122 in the City of West Kelowna.
Properties still under evacuation orders due to the fire “are more remote, topographically challenging and/or close to active wildfire areas,” he added.
Bonfire, burning bans
BCWS Information Officer Shaelee Stearns said this weekend saw higher temperatures, decreased humidity and increased fire activity.
He wants to remind people in the Kamloops Fire Center area, which covers much of the south central interior, that there is currently a complete prohibition of making bonfires and open burning.
“It’s important for people to be aware of that,” he said. “If you see someone building a campfire, you can report it, it’s beneficial. Just make sure everyone uses caution as we move forward. We’re still in these warmer temperatures.”
Meanwhile, BC Hydro crews continue to work to replace more than 400 power poles and other infrastructure damaged by the flames, including 27 kilometers of power lines and dozens of pieces of equipment.
A statement from the power authority said other efforts are underway to make it safe to return to evacuated areas, including restoring gas and water services, and removing problem trees and other hazards.