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B.C. premier says province is looking into establishing year-round emergency response to wildfires

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British Columbia's premier says the province is looking into establishing a year-round emergency response to wildfires due to the growing frequency and scale of these disasters.

Speaking to CTV Morning Live on Wednesday, Premier David Eby said the idea emerged from his recent tour of the fire-ravaged areas in B.C.’s southern Interior.

“Local governments, they’re doing their best on the frontlines—really amazing work by them and by volunteers—and they need even greater supports,” said Eby.

“People shouldn’t have to wait for emergency access to hotel rooms, they shouldn’t have to sleep in their cars, and those are some of the stories, frankly, that I heard from the frontlines—especially in the early days in Kelowna, given the volume of people looking for supports,” he added.

The cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna each declared a state of emergency late Aug. 18 over the wilfdires. B.C.’s government followed up with a province-wide emergency declaration the next day.

“We’re going to have to look at a year-round, professionalized response,” said Eby.

The province recently transformed BC Wildfire Service into a year-round operation through a record $359-million investment through its 2022 budget.

Eby says his government is now exploring ways to incorporate local knowledge into the province’s emergency response.

He used the firefight in the Shuswap area, where some residents are ignoring evacuation orders issued in response to the massive Adams Complex, as an example of British Columbians seeking certainty of their safety.

“It’s important for people to understand the context of that community,” explained Eby, who was forced to skip a scheduled visit to Salmon Arm on Tuesday because blazes burning in the region prevented him and other officials from helicoptering in.

“A lot of people there know the bush very well and work in forestry. They want to help, but they’re also being asked to leave so that we can ensure they’re safe and so the wildfire service can work.”

Eby says BCWS is now reaching out and trying to find ways to incorporate people with knowledge and expertise into the firefighting effort, following a similar model to Australia’s wildfire response.

“That way, we’re all on the same page as opposed to what’s been happening—which is people commandeering firefighting equipment, defying evacuation orders, trying to go around barricades. It’s a really stressful situation for people but we’re really asking everybody to pull together right now.”

He says the province is also working on improving its wildfire response by working with Indigenous communities in fire-affected areas.

“(These are) people who know the local forest very well and are able to identify fires and response very quickly—if they have the resources,” explained Eby.

“Unfortuantely, the new reality for British Columbia is we need to continually look at expanding our fire service, fire response, heat response, flood response and prevention—all of this work is having to be really ramped up given the impacts of climate change that we’re seeing in the province.”

There are still currently 378 active wildfires burning in the province, according to the latest data from the BC Wildfire Service. Fourteen of those blazes are classified as wildfires of note.

While the premier acknowledges B.C.’s wildfire season is far from over, he says his government is already working with its federal counterparts on disaster assistance.

“People need to be able to access that as quickly as possible as we begin the rebuilding process,” said Eby.

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