Premier John Horgan spent part of Tuesday in the area hardest hit by British Columbia’s wildfires.
Horgan visited the fire operation centre in Prince George and was briefed alongside federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, local mayors and First Nations leaders about the current state of the fire and what the province could do to help.
“We are not out of the woods yet. We do not see rain in the foreseeable future,” Horgan said. “The message all of us want to give is to make sure our communications lines stay open and that everyone is working as diligently as they can.”
“I am profoundly proud of the work that is being done but I also understand how absolutely tragic it has been for many, many people and the frustration that we have heard and will continue to hear.”
Horgan also met with Carmen Nutter, who has been evacuated from her home and her father had had his home destroyed by the Nadina Lake wildfire last Wednesday. Nutter asked Horgan to consider using different types of aircraft for the firefight, train local communities and have more burns during the fire’s off-season to clear highly flammable brush and forest debris.
“Changing policies to [preventative] things they can do moving forward to protect all of our communities when these wildfires continue to burn,” Nutter said. “We are living in huge, devastated, beetle-killed forests that need to be managed quite differently. Having burns during the winter months when there is snow on the ground and the fuel can be managed, there are lots of suggestions.”
There are currently more than 550 fires in the province. One of the largest continues to be the Shovel Lake fire that is effecting areas around Fort St. James, Fraser Lake and Burns Lake.
Horgan was supposed to go to Burns Lake but the airplane he was travelling in could not land because of thick smoke in the area,
“We need to make sure that we have all the resources that we can bring to bear deployed. That is why it is so positive to have Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities working together,” he said.
“What we discovered in talking to chief (Terry) Tegee and Chief (Ed) John today is areas where we had hoped to make progress in, better communications with regional districts, Indigenous communities and the provincial government have not taken hold. That is a result of falling back to the practices they understand.”
Tl’azt’en Nation Grand Chief Ed John said First Nations are concerned about a lack of support and resources. Following the provincial state of emergency last summer, John presented a report to the province with seven recommendations including $200 million to all B.C. First Nations for any disaster.
“We haven’t heard hide nor hair from either of these governments,” John said. “We get a lot of lip service. We need more than lip service. And that is what we met about.”
The federal government has convened an ad-hoc committee on the wildfires that will help the federal government coordinate and provide resources and support from Ottawa to the province. The Canadian Armed Forces are now in B.C. providing support and mop-up so that firefighters can focus on the fires.
“One thing we want to make sure of is that at a time of crisis we want to make sure that Canadians know that the Canadian Armed Forces will always be there to assist the provinces and Canadians at the time of need,” Sajjan said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Horgan sat down in Nanaimo on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a wide range of issues including the fires. At the beginning of the meeting Trudeau announced he would be going to central B.C. to meet with first responders and evacuees on Thursday.
“Our thoughts are with all the first responders, the fire fighters and the residents who are struggling through the wild fires burning across the province,” said Trudeau.