British Columbia

'Emotions are running high': B.C. minister defends provincial response to wildfires

Many across the province are calling for more to be done to better manage wildfire season going forward and are expressing concern that the province took too long to respond to the fires.

Many people across province are calling for better wildfire management in the future

RCMP were deployed to assist with wildfire impacts throughout the province on Wednesday. (BC RCMP)

B.C. Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson is defending his government's handling of the wildfire situation, following criticism that help is coming too late.

The province declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as close to 560 wildfires continued to burn, giving the B.C. government increased authority and resources to fight the fires.

But many are calling for more to be done to better manage wildfire seasons in the future, and are expressing concern that the province took too long to respond to this year's fires.

Donaldson spoke to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition, about the B.C. government's response.

Residents of northern communities are saying they have felt forgotten and needed more help weeks ago. What do you say to those who feel the government hasn't been listening to them this summer?

I know emotions are running high, of course, when you see your home or business threatened.

That creates heightened tension but I just want to ensure people that they are not forgotten and the resources are there. We are pulling out all stops to try to get these fires under control.

'We are pulling out all stops to try to get these fires under control,' Doug Donaldson says. (Doug Donaldson/ Facebook)

You've been visiting Telegraph Creek this week, where evacuation orders are in place. What have you heard from people there?

People are anxious to get back to their homes but public safety is No. 1 from our team's point of view.

We've got to make sure that no lives are lost as a result of these fires.

Bill Miller, the chair of the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District, told CBC that he'd been asking for more help for weeks and sometimes felt like he was being ignored. Is this help coming too late for areas like the Bulkley-Nechako district?

Sometimes when people observe not a lot of action on a fire from an air support perspective, for instance, it's due to decisions operationally that are being made for safety of crews.

I understand the frustrations expressed by Bill Miller and I want to assure him that the resources are there and more are on the way.

Smoke and flames rise from the Shovel Lake fire near Burns Lake in the Central Interior of B.C. over the weekend. Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson was on site within 48 hours, he said. (BC Wildfire Service)

Bill Miller also said he'd spoken to you about the need for more dedicated wildfire management services in the north. What would it take for the government to create a northern wildfire coordination centre?

These are operational decisions.

We'll be looking at resources and the overall approach but, at this point, we're getting good feedback from our front-line people and our operational managers.

'We don't need a sprinkle. We don't need showers. We need a downpour [of help],' says Bill Miller, the regional district board chair for the Interior's Bulkley-Nechako region. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Last year the province experienced the worst wildfire season on record. What has your government changed in its approach to wildfire management since 2017?

We brought crews on sooner and we brought more air support on sooner this year.

We've been testing new equipment like mass water delivery systems — in other words, large industrial sprinklers to protect houses and structures.

We also liaised early with stakeholders in different areas of different fire centres to make sure that the relationships and communication lines were established.

Local knowledge and local equipment is well integrated into the firefighting plans.

This interview aired on The Early Edition on Aug. 16 and has been edited for clarity and structure. To hear the complete interview, click on the audio below.

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