The provincial government announced that 150 additional Canadian Armed Forces members are on their way to help with the B.C. wildfire situation, during a tour and meeting with evacuees in Kamloops Thursday.
“There are a lot of tired people out there who need a break,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told reporters.
“They’ve (federal government) agreed there will be an additional 150 Canadian Armed Forces who will come and assist in terms of road checks and where they are needed. They will be on the ground shortly.”
Farnworth, who was sworn in Tuesday as part of B.C.’s new NDP government, said he, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson, and Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness Jennifer Rice met with just a few of the more than 45,000 people who remain out of their homes due to the fast-moving wildfires.
“It is impressive what has been taking place here in Kamloops. It is unprecedented, what is happening right now in British Columbia,” said Farnworth.
“There is more than 3,000 people on the ground fighting fires, almost 200 aircraft and helicopters helping to fight fires, countless volunteers. The community of Kamloops opening up their hearts.
“I feel it is truly remarkable the way the community has come together. It is showing the best of who we are as British Columbians and Canadians.”
On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan extended a province-wide state of emergency for another two weeks.
Evacuees are eligible for $600 from a previously announced $100-million provincial fund, and Horgan said that they will be able to access an additional $600 for every two weeks they are displaced.
As it stands, Farnworth said about $10 million has been used already. He believes the fund is currently sufficient, but also said the government will spend whatever is necessary.
“This is just the start of the fire season,” he said.
“I hope we get a honking big rainstorm that puts everything out, but we’re just at the beginning and so we’re going to make sure that people are looked after.”
As for what the new NDP government will do to prevent a year like this in the future, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said it is too early to say.
“Once we get through this summer season, which is unprecedented as we said, we will then take time to learn, reflect and debrief on how the situation occurred, how we responded and how we can be prepared for next time,” said Donaldson.
“The immediate concern is safety right now, but I guarantee we will be looking at the situation after it is under control and making sure we look at mitigation measures and ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent this situation from happening again.”
Donaldson was also asked whether B.C. had done enough to prevent wildfires and, in particular, whether he thought recommendations in a 2003 report after the province’s last major wildfire emergency had been adequately implemented.
“I have only been minister for three days so I am looking into that report. Some of the recommendations were acted on, others need further action, so once we get done with this immediate crisis we can look back on that report,” said Donaldson.
Farnworth noted that he, Donaldson and Rice will meet with federal ministers on the weekend.
The Canadian Armed Forces has already sent a number of personnel, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to the province to help in the firefight.
The forecast called for rain in some parts of B.C. on Thursday, but about 140 fires are still burning in the province. More than 3,500 square kilometres of land have been scorched by wildfires this year.
Officials in one of the regions hardest-hit by the wildfires, the Cariboo Regional District, said Wednesday that 41 homes had been lost.
Another eight homes were confirmed lost in the Central Okanagan region last weekend and almost three dozen trailers were destroyed when fire raced through the Boston Flats trailer park next to Cache Creek, B.C.
- with files from The Canadian Press