British Columbia

Calls grow for B.C. to declare state of emergency over wildfires, but province is standing firm

A B.C. region where thousands of people have been forced out of their homes or told to prepare to leave at a moment's notice is calling on the province to declare a state of emergency.

Thompson-Nicola Regional District board chair says 'this is more than a flash in the pan'

A wildfire burns to the southeast of Merritt, B.C., on Thursday. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

A B.C. region where thousands of people have been forced out of their homes or told to prepare to leave at a moment's notice is calling on the province to declare a state of emergency.

The board of directors of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), where there are 15 active evacuation orders and 19 active evacuation alerts, voted Thursday to ask the B.C. government to make the call.

"People realize that this is more than a flash in the pan. This is a very, very serious problem. We need all the help we can possibly get," TNRD board chair Ken Gillis told CBC News.

A state of emergency gives government bodies the authority to take any action deemed necessary to deal with a disaster.

As of Thursday, an estimated 13 per cent of the regional district is under evacuation order or alert, according to the TNRD. Residents of 876 properties are currently out of their homes and people living on another 2,359 properties are on alert.

Six local states of emergency have already been declared in the region.

"It is vitally important to those regions where fires are running rampant that we should have every opportunity to try to combat them. I'm hoping that we're going to get some increased presence from the Armed Forces — I don't know where else to turn," Gillis said.

The chair of the Cariboo Regional District and the mayor of Clearwater have both also called for a provincial state of emergency, but so far the B.C. government has been reluctant to enact one.

During a briefing on the wildfire situation Thursday, Brendan Ralfs of Emergency Management B.C. told reporters he can appreciate why a state of emergency would be on people's minds right now.

"During this current event, a provincial declaration of state of emergency has not been necessary to provide assistance to people, to access funding, or to coordinate or obtain additional resources," Ralfs said.

He added that a state of emergency will be enacted "if and when it's required."

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 308 active wildfires burning across the province, and close to 2,000 square kilometres has already burned so far this year. That's more than 10 times as much land as what went up in smoke all of last year.

"There are many areas of this province that are not safe to come to right now, and I think we need to square our shoulders and face into the wind and admit that," Gillis said.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

With files from David Ball


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