British Columbia

Canadian troops come to fight B.C. fires as some ask what took so long

Firefighters from around the world are battling wildfires across B.C., with more assistance on the way from the Canadian Forces. But there are concerns the province’s requests for help took too long.

Provincial, federal governments respond to B.C. wildfires as concerns rise about a lack of resources

Tracy Calogheros shot this photo from a cabin on an island in Francois Lake. The area is currently under an evacuation order. (Tracy Calogheros/Facebook)

Firefighters from around the world are battling wildfires across B.C., with more help on the way from the Canadian Forces.

But there are concerns the province's requests for help took too long. 

Bill Miller, the regional district board chair for the B.C. Interior's Bulkley-Nechako region where dozens of fires are burning, said firefighting efforts in the area have been hampered by a lack of resources.

"We've been knocking on every door and shaking every tree that we can find to try to get more resources here," Miller said. "It just seems to me that we are awfully slow in resourcing this."

Troops on the ground

The B.C. government made a formal request for help on Monday, and the federal government responded with a pledge of 200 troops, as well as aircraft to help move people and supplies, as roughly 600 fires burn across the province.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale emphasized that the government is willing to provide assistance to local emergency management efforts as requests for help are made.  

"In every case, we respond immediately and the answer is yes but that decision-making about the making of those requests rests with provincial officials," Goodale said.

Canadian Forces personnel have started a reconnaissance mission to determine where the greatest firefighting needs and priorities are, Goodale said, and troops will be moving within hours once that assessment is completed.

Smoke and flames rise from the Shovel Lake fire near Burns Lake in the Central Interior of B.C. over the weekend. (BC Wildfire Service)

'Why is no one stopping this?'

B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson, the MLA for Stikine in the province's northwest, said the spread out nature of the fires this year is the issue rather than a lack of preparedness.

"The funding is always there. We expend as much as required to keep people safe and to keep structures safe," Donaldson said.

"We are challenged with the number of fires in the province ... it's across the entire province unlike last year where it was concentrated."

But some British Columbians facing the flames say they are still left wondering whether sufficient help is on the way, fast enough.

"I'm starting to feel like where are the water bombers? Where are the helicopters? Why is no one stopping this?" said Tracy Calogheros, an evacuee from Francois Lake in central B.C.

Water bomber misconceptions

Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer, said there's often a public misconception about the role of aircraft when it comes to fighting fires and that a lot of the work "is taking place away from where the public is looking."

"Once fires have reached the size of some of what we are seeing in that part of the province —  thousands of hectares in size — there is still a role for aircraft in terms of fighting the fire but at that point, it's going to be won or lost on the ground," he said.

With files from The Early Edition, Daybreak North and Radio West.

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