B.C. declares state of emergency, forecast wind could worsen wildfire situation

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B.C. has declared a provincial state of emergency to support the province-wide response to the ongoing wildfire situation.

Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, made the declaration on July 20 based on a recommendation from the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC. The declaration will be in effect starting July 21.

The state of emergency is initially in effect for 14 days once issued and may be extended or rescinded as necessary. It applies to the whole province and ensures federal, provincial and local resources can be delivered in a co-ordinated response to protect the public, according to the province.

“Public safety is always our first priority and as wildfire activity is expected to increase, this is a progressive step in our wildfire response to make sure British Columbia has access to extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act,” Farnworth said. “This declaration will address the potential of a mass evacuation scenario and provide our government with the means to secure the accommodation spaces necessary to house our citizens, if necessary.”

As of July 20, there were 299 wildfires burning in B.C., with 40 evacuation orders affecting approximately 5,724 people (2,862 properties), in addition to 69 evacuation alerts impacting approximately 32,076 people (16,038 properties).

The extended weather forecast calls for continued hot and dry conditions, with heightened wind activity in the Interior and southeastern B.C.

More than 3,180 firefighters and resource staff are currently engaged in fighting fires in all fire regions in the province. This includes 1,080 contractors and 135 out-of-province resources.

The federal government has accepted the province’s request for firefighting assistance. In the coming days, federal personnel and resources will be arriving in B.C. to assist with wildfire efforts.

The state of emergency gives agencies, such as the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Emergency Management BC, the fire commissioner and the RCMP, the authority to take every action necessary to fight the wildfires and protect people and communities.

The BC Wildfire Service issued a wind advisory for the Interior, southern Interior and southeastern B.C. from July 20–22. The weather system is expected to exit the province late on July 22.

The province said wind activity may significantly impact fire growth in these regions. The rate of fire spread will likely increase and the direction of fire growth may change quickly on some wildfires.

The top priority for the BC Wildfire Service is human life and safety. The public is urged to maintain heightened awareness of the current wildfire situation.

People who remain in an area under an evacuation order may impede the ability of fire crews to fight a wildfire because crews may be forced to stop fighting the fire to keep people out of harm’s way. People who decide to “wait and see” if they need to evacuate an area may find their escape route blocked by fallen trees or abandoned vehicles and familiar landmarks may be obscured by thick smoke.

The province has set up an online dashboard to make it easy for residents to track the wildfire situation.

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