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Officials outline B.C. wildfire supports amid 'harrowing times'

Officials outline B.C. wildfire supports amid 'harrowing times'
Officials outline B.C. wildfire supports amid 'harrowing times'

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: السبت 18 مايو 2024 06:33 مساءً

Officials are establishing support systems for thousands of evacuees displaced from their homes by wildfires in parts of British Columbia last week.

In Fort Nelson and the Fort Nelson First Nation, 4,700 people had to leave their homes because of the Parker Lake blaze. A separate fire led to evacuation efforts in the Doig River First Nation and a portion of the Peace River Regional District near Fort St. John on Monday.

"Top of mind is always the impact that these wildfires and these evacuations have on evacuees, individuals and families," said B.C. Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma on CBC's Daybreak North Friday morning.

"We have so far almost 5,000 people from the Fort Nelson area in host communities such as Fort St. John and Chetwynd and Prince George and Dawson Creek and scattered throughout the interior and the north. These are some pretty harrowing times for a lot of these community members."

Smoke from the Parker Creek wildfire rises over Fort Nelson Secondary School Friday, May 10, 2024, shortly before the community was ordered to evacuate.

Smoke from the Parker Creek wildfire rises over Fort Nelson Secondary School Friday, May 10, 2024, shortly before the community was ordered to evacuate.

Smoke from the Parker Creek wildfire rises over Fort Nelson Secondary School Friday, May 10, 2024, shortly before the community's evacuation order. (Carlos Heffes)

The first evacuation orders were issued as early as mid-April, which isn't common but isn't "completely unprecedented," Ma said, adding that it's worrisome that nearly 5,000 evacuees had to be evacuated days before the May long weekend.

She said drought conditions have remained a pain point from last year and the province is experiencing a "very significant drought."

However it's still too soon to determine when the evacuees will be able to go home, or what this year's wildfire season will look like, she said.

"It's too early for us to really anticipate anything when it comes to wildfire seasons, although like I said, we are on high alert as a result of drought conditions … we're seeing regularly, year over year, warmer temperatures, drier conditions, and that's a recipe for a bad wildfire season," Ma said.

Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma pauses while responding to questions after welcoming firefighters from Brazil at Abbotsford International Airport, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Sunday, July 23, 2023.

Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma pauses while responding to questions after welcoming firefighters from Brazil at Abbotsford International Airport, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Sunday, July 23, 2023.

According to B.C. Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma, seen here in a press conference in 2023, persistent drought, warmer temperatures and dry conditions are the 'recipe for a bad wildfire season.' (Darryl Dick/The Canadian Press)

This sentiment was echoed by Fort Nelson School District superintendent Mark Theobald on CBC's Daybreak North.

"We're only three days of school, right, since we've been evacuated. And no real clear answers on when we might go back. And so there's too many 'what-ifs' to give a clear answer there right now. We're just working day by day," he said.

"I know our grads are worried. Are they going to graduate? And, you know … if we don't get back into school this year, our grads that were on track to graduate, you know, we'll make sure they're still graduating."

Firefighters said they were aided by some rain from Wednesday to Friday near the Fort Nelson fires, and conditions remain favourable for firefighting operations on Saturday.

Northern Rockies Regional District Mayor Rob Parker said in a Saturday update that some of the district's staff had begun working on rehabilitation plans should the residents of Fort Nelson be able to return — but he cautioned that the community was still threatened by the Parker Lake fire.

"[Firefighters] identified that they need the eastern edge. So all along the Alaska Highway — they need that to be pulled back," he said, in response to questions of when the community could return. "So they need to have containment of the fire."

Food, fuel, mental health supports

As firefighters continue to battle wildfires in the province, Theobald and his team are focusing on procuring helpful resources for families in need while working with their provincial partners to arrange mental health support for those affected by the wildfires.

"We had heard that emergency services supports, they're not, you know, it's not always … making ends meet for our families. I know, you know, not everyone is getting paid," he said.

B.C. Wildfire crews prepare at a base at the Fort St. John airport on May 13, 2023. B.C. Wildfire is battling several fires in northeastern B.C., including the Parker Lake fire in Fort Nelson.

B.C. Wildfire crews prepare at a base at the Fort St. John airport on May 13, 2023. B.C. Wildfire is battling several fires in northeastern B.C., including the Parker Lake fire in Fort Nelson.

B.C. Wildfire crews prepare at a base at the Fort St. John airport on May 13, 2023. B.C. Wildfire is battling several fires in northeastern B.C., including the Parker Lake fire in Fort Nelson. (CBC News)

"Folk still have their regular bills coming up, things like that. So we are an admin team. We worked really hard to get grocery cards and fuel cards for families."

The team is planning to distribute cards in Prince George, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.

Ma addressed essential support options on Daybreak North and said emergency support services cover things like accommodation, per diems for food, and funds for fuel and incidentals.

LISTEN | The superintendent of the Fort Nelson School District on emergency supports:

"But it is the case that emergency support services provide those basics for a lot of these families who are out of their homes. They've got regular mortgage payments and they've still got, you know, other bills coming in that are beyond the day-to-day subsistence," she said.

"So that's why it's so incredibly important that we get people back into their homes. The firefighters are working every day around the clock, holding the line over in Fort Nelson and trying to fight those fires back."

Ma added the government has been working on making emergency supports available as soon as possible.

"We are making changes that allow for those emergency support services to be delivered as quickly as possible, even when there are mass evacuations taking place," she said.

"That's what happened here with the Fort Nelson evacuation. On the same day, provincial staff were on the ground in Fort St. John, supporting the crews and getting people registered and getting those evacuations done."

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