B.C.’s fire evacuation situation is “nowhere near” the record fire seasons of 2017 and 2018, but caution when travelling is urgent and people should stay out of back country for now, Premier John Horgan says.
Asked about a back-country ban as in those years during a visit to the Castlegar fire centre Wednesday, Horgan said those decisions are in the hands of experts advising the government, the same as the province-wide state of emergency declaration that took effect July 21. But he offered advice to anyone travelling, particularly in the southern part of the province where wildfires are growing due to high winds.
“To British Columbians generally, please, please stay out of the back country,” Horgan said. “Those are decisions that are made by Emergency Management B.C. and the B.C. Wildfire Service based on resources. Blanket bans require enforcement, enforcement requires resources. We want to focus first and foremost on those areas most at risk.”
B.C. Wildfire Service reports that there are 296 fires currently burning in the province, with 111 in the Kamloops fire region, 64 in the Southeast, 60 in the Prince George region and 46 in the Cariboo. There are two evacuation orders and five alerts in the Southeast, far below the central B.C. zone where nine evacuation orders were added for a total of 35 and eight alerts issued this week for a total of 46.
Horgan has been peppered with questions in recent days about the wait to declare a province-wide state of emergency, on top of local emergency declarations that trigger evacuation alerts and orders. The provincial declaration allows emergency officials to prepare for possible evacuations by arranging for accommodation at hotels and if necessary shelters set up at schools and colleges, but the main effect is to give police and emergency management teams the ability to enforce orders.
“It’s about being able to say to people, you need to move out so we can move in,” Horgan said.
“We want to be able to work before an evacuation order is issued … so we can go into an area where there is not currently an evacuation order, work with the community, work with the hospitality sector to find, whether it’s an arena, whether it’s a residence at a post-secondary institution, using school gymnasiums. These are all things that we can do, but we have not been at that place right now, because the evacuations are relatively low.”