British Columbia

B.C. mayors call for more federal assistance as wildfires ravage the province

As hundreds of wildfires continue to ravage British Columbia and evacuation orders and alerts remain in place for thousands of people, some mayors and other officials throughout the province are desperately calling for more help. 

'We need help and we need massive amounts of it,' Merritt Mayor Linda Brown says

A helicopter carrying a water bucket flies past the Lytton Creek wildfire burning in the mountains near Lytton, B.C., on Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

As hundreds of wildfires continue to ravage British Columbia and evacuation orders and alerts remain in place for thousands of people, some mayors and other officials throughout the province are desperately calling for more help. 

Thousands of personnel have joined the wildfire fighting efforts, including 500 people from out of province. Another 200 firefighters are expected to arrive from other provinces this week.

In mid-July, the federal government also announced support for fighting B.C.'s wildfires and said up to 350 Canadian Forces personnel would be deployed.

Nearly a month later, some say it's still not enough. 

Almost every municipality in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), is affected by either evacuation orders or alerts as of Tuesday. Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said his town is one of the only communities not currently in threat. 

He and multiple other mayors across the province are pleading for an all-hands-on-deck approach to fighting the fires and Blackwell says that should include federal help. 

"We really do need the backup of other forms of authority. The Armed Forces would be perfect," Blackwell told CBC News.

"To have that authoritative Canadian backup would be fantastic at this point."

The entire City of Merritt is on evacuation alert after the July Mountain and Brook Creek fires merged Sunday. With the threat of having to pack up and leave at any minute as well as highway closures, Mayor Linda Brown said the whole community is "in a mess."

Brown said more needs to be done to save communities like Merritt from being destroyed.

A helicopter with a water bucket flies past smoke rising into the air from the July Mountain wildfire along the Coquihalla Highway south of Merritt. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"We don't seem to be having any federal help. We've got some firefighters around the province from elsewhere, but there's not enough. They're burning out. We need the military," she said. 

"We need help and we need massive amounts of it."

Premier missing in action

Meanwhile, Premier John Horgan has been noticeably absent over the past few days, raising concerns over social media from many British Columbians.

In a statement, Horgan's press secretary said he was currently on vacation but is being briefed daily on the situation facing the province. 

When asked about the premier's whereabouts in a press conference on Monday, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Horgan is doing "exactly what he's supposed to be doing."

However, Farnworth also said Monday he has been in contact with Bill Blair, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness for Canada, to discuss additional assistance being sent to the province.

Liberal MLA and Opposition Leader Shirley Bond said it's not enough that Horgan is being filled in while he's away; she thinks he should be on the ground in B.C., talking to the elected officials calling for more support. 

Liberal MLA Shirley Bond would like to see the premier on the ground, assisting communities where he can. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

"It's really about all hands on deck and it's about making sure that British Columbians feel like this government has their back. Part of that is by being present in our province, not taking a vacation," Bond said. 

She said she isn't suggesting that government officials don't need a break but there is a right time for it and with so much happening in the province, now isn't it. 

"We're in a time of incredible distress for a large portion of our province and I think people want to hear from the premier. They want to see him," Bond said.

As West Kelowna deals with an evacuation alert due to the Mount Law fire, Mayor Gord Milsom says it would be great to have Horgan visit his community and see what they are dealing with.

Over the past weekend social media was filled with stories of people fleeing the wildfires that continue to ravage BC. And one question dominated - Where is John Horgan? Coming up, we hear from Interim Opposition Leader Shirley Bond. 9:56

"If the premier wanted to come and visit our community, he's more than welcome," said Milsom.

However, he said he is very happy with the action from crews in the air and ground in West Kelowna.

The provincial state of emergency was extended Tuesday, until at least Aug. 31, a move Farnworth says will continue to help the co-ordinated response to the wildfires.

"As we renew this state of emergency for another two weeks, I want to assure British Columbians that we're taking every step possible to ensure the safety of everyone in these communities," he said in a written statement. 

With files from The Early Edition and Radio West