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BREAKING: B.C. declares state of emergency over wildfires

The declaration comes as the province sees its worst wildfire season on record
Premier David Eby announces state of emergency in B.C. on Aug. 18, 2023. (Black Press Media graphic)

B.C.’s Premier David Eby has declared a provincial state of emergency due to the fast-paced spreading of multiple wildfires across the province.

Eby issued the declaration Friday afternoon as the province sees its worst wildfire season on record.

“In just the last 24 hours, the situation has evolved and deteriorated quite rapidly in just the last hour,” Eby said. “Tonight, as a result of this rapid deterioration, we are declaring a provincial state of emergency to ensure that we have rapid access to any tools that we may need to respond to this situation.”

Eby asked British Columbians not to travel to affected areas, unless essential. “We need roads clear for first responders for emergency crews, for evacuations and we need accommodation available as well.”

Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma and Forests Minister Bruce Ralston as well as staff joined Eby during the announcement.

Ma repeated her earlier call to avoid travel to the central and southeastern parts of the province. “People have been mostly following our call to not travel to certain areas,” she said. But government is also seeing more and more evacuations and access to accommodations is becoming increasingly difficult, she added.

“We need accommodations available to keep people safe and to house critical response personnel like firefighters and health care staff,” she said. “At this time, we are strongly recommending that people with plans to travel to fire affected areas throughout the central interior and southeast in the coming days to cancel those plans. We need tourists and travellers to take this situation as seriously as the residents of these areas.”

According to Ma, authorities have ordered 15,000 British Columbians to evacuate and 20,000 people are under evacuation alert.

Eby called the situation unpredictable right now and signalled that additional measures restricting travel might be coming.

“If (experts) advise us that they need an order for essential transportation only in those regions, then Minister May and her team and our government will not hesitate to issue those necessary orders. Right now, they want us to be prepared to have those tools ready for when we need because this is a rapidly changing situation.”

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Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations with BC Wildfire Service, said echoed Ma’s appeal to be prepared and remain claim.

“It isn’t about worrying,” he said. “It’s about being prepared.”

Ralston said government is continuously assessing resource needs. Chapman added that his agency will likely receive what he called 16 highly qualified individuals from Australia next week.

“We also have a request in (to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre) for an additional 200 firefighting resources,” he said, adding that B.C. did not need a declaration of emergency to secure those resources.

But it is clear that today’s declaration was to sent an important message about the seriousness of the situation, something Eby noted in his remarks.

“It communicates to people across the province the seriousness of the deteriorating situation we are facing,” he said.

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