B.C. officials explain why state of emergency remains in effect

While officials say the end of B.C.’s historically terrible wildfire season is in sight, they’re urging people to remain vigilant.

At a provincial news conference on Wednesday, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma said that historically, mid-September signals the end of wildfire season in the province.

But there are still over 400 fires burning across B.C., coupled with a severe drought. “We are in the home stretch but we are not yet in the clear,” Ma said. The provincial state of emergency declared on Aug. 18 is still in effect.

Ma said an estimated 3,800 people remain on evacuation order, while 34,000 people are still on alert.

In recent weeks, the wildfire situation in central B.C.—such as in the Okanagan and Shuswap—has stabilized, she said. Meanwhile, the Northwest and Prince George fire centres have seen “aggressive fire activity” and growth brought on by hot, windy weather.

Some fires in the northern half of the province ran 20 to 30 kilometres when “very, very significant winds” came in, said Cliff Chapman, director of operations for BC Wildfire Service.

“Those are significant fire runs for the province of B.C., really for anywhere in the world.”

He added the runs did not have impacts at the scale of those in the Shuswap and Okanagan. But they did lead to evacuation orders and alerts, and lots of smoke in the air.

Chapman said weather has been favourable after the Labour Day weekend, with days getting shorter, humidity rising and temperatures dropping—all ingredients for more effective fire suppression by crews.

What firefighters are waiting for now is rain, which isn’t in the forecast yet. “That’s what we really need,” Chapman said.

“We’re still looking for what we refer to as a season-ending rain event and right now that is not in the forecast.”

“With the Labour Day weekend behind us and fall fast approaching, some might assume that the wildfire season has ended. It has not,” said Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s minister of forests. “The fire situation across the province is still very active.”

Ralston urged everyone to take “every precaution” and do their part by obeying fire bans.

“This has been and continues to be an extremely difficult and challenging wildfire season for people in our province,” Ma said, adding everyone in affected areas should stay prepared and have an emergency plan.

Ma also announced at the presser that the 2023 wildfire season has been declared a “Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA)-eligible event,” meaning local governments and First Nations can apply for provincial funding to repair infrastructure, like roads and bridges, and cover costs related to inspections, appraisals and design processes.

Since April 1, more than 2,000 wildfires have sparked in B.C. and they have burned more than 2.2 million hectares of land.

“Over the next several weeks, let’s hope for the best but be prepared for the worst,” Ma said.


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