British Columbia’s Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has officially declared a provincial state of emergency as a result of burning wildfires and “worsening weather” conditions.
The news was announced during a live press conference on Tuesday afternoon, switching gears after the province previously declared that a state of emergency wasn’t necessary.
“This will address the potential for a mass evacuation scenario and provide our government with the means to secure the accommodation spaces necessary to support evacuees,” said Farnworth during the press conference.
Farnworth says that this step will ensure that the Province has the power to do what is necessary moving forward as wildfires continue to spread, putting communities at risk.
“Public safety is always our first priority, and as wildfire activity is expected to increase, this is a progressive step in our wildfire response to make sure British Columbia has access to extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act,” Farnworth said. “In a briefing last night, I received word that we’ll be facing a few days of very difficult weather in the Interior.”
It is the worsening Interior weather that led Farnworth to ultimately declare an emergency — a forecast that calls for continued hot and dry conditions and high winds in the Interior and southeastern B.C.
“What this means is that we are going to see our efforts on the fires that are on the landscape challenged, our control lines will the challenged,” Cliff Chapman of the B.C. Wildfire Service said.
The state of emergency will come into effect at midnight tonight (July 20, 2021). The state of emergency for the wildfires is initially in effect for 14 days and may be extended or rescinded as necessary.
The state of emergency applies to the whole province and ensures federal, provincial and local resources can be delivered in a coordinated response to protect the public, which remains the provincial government’s top priority.
According to the B.C. Wildfire Services, there were 299 wildfires burning across B.C. as of Tuesday afternoon, with 40 evacuation orders affecting approximately 5,724 people (2,862 properties), in addition to 69 evacuation alerts impacting approximately 32,076 people (16,038 properties).
There have already been more than 1,1,50 fires in B.C. this wildfire season, in what is shaping up to be one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.
“To date there is a total of 300,000 hectares that has burned in the province of B.C.,” Chapman says. “We are certainly trending to have a similar season to 2017/2018.”
Farnworth says more federal resources have been approved, including military personnel, and crews from a variety of provinces as well as 100 firefighters from Mexico will be travelling to B.C. and arriving in the next few days to help fight the raging wildfires.
The government says that more than 3,180 firefighters and resource staff are currently actively engaged in fighting fires in all fire regions in the province, including 1,080 contractors and 135 out-of-province resources.
Earlier on Tuesday, additional evacuation orders were given to people in the vicinity of Osoyoos as an “aggressive” wildfire moved rapidly in the area.