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B.C. government introducing travel restrictions to free up accommodations for evacuees

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The B.C. government is using the extraordinary powers granted to it under its state of emergency declaration to implement a restriction on tourism-related travel to areas affected by wildfires.

Premier David Eby announced the order at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

He said the order is intended to ensure sufficient temporary accommodations are available to people who are evacuating or are involved in fighting fires.

"The current situation is grim," Eby said, adding that there are about 35,000 people on evacuation order across the province and another 30,000 are on evacuation alert and may need to leave at a moment's notice.

"We have an urgent need for more accommodation," the premier said. "This order says, 'Stay off the roads for tourist-related, non-essential travel to stay in temporary accommodation.'"

The order applies specifically to the Okanagan region, according to Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma.

"People, families, firefighters and other front-line responders need a safe place to stay during this extremely challenging and difficult time," Ma said. "Under this order, we are restricting travel to several communities for anyone planning on staying in temporary accommodation."

Communities included in the order are Kelowna, Kamloops, Oliver, Osoyoos, Penticton and Vernon, the minister said.

"Let me be clear: Temporary accommodation in the areas I have listed are no longer available for non-essential visits. If you do not need to travel to these areas for essential reasons, we need you to change your plans." Ma said.

She asked those who are currently vacationing in the area to consider cutting their visits short in order to free up more space.

"I want to thank everyone who has already cancelled their plans to travel to the Okanagan," Ma said. "Your efforts are helping."

The premier also thanked people for staying home, characterizing the order announced Saturday as the formalization of what the province was already requesting when it declared a state of emergency Friday

"We shouldn't need an order," he said. "Please, just stay out of these areas if you don't have to be there." 

Declaring a state of emergency grants the province extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act, allowing for swifter responses to rapidly developing crises.

Those powers can include restricting travel, forcing evacuations, and even commandeering personal property if doing so is deemed necessary for disaster response.

The government previously declared province-wide states of emergency in March 2020 as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in November 2021 following the historic floods and landslides that left several communities under water and cut off highway access to the Lower Mainland.

The declarations remain in place for two weeks by default, at which time they can be renewed or cancelled. Officials also have the ability to call them off at any time.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel 

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