By Laura Keil

The B.C. government has declared a provincial state of emergency to bolster its response to the ongoing wildfire situation, and is taking steps to consider a “mass evacuation scenario” in light of hot, dry and windy weather to come.

BC currently has 299 wildfires burning in B.C., with 40 evacuation orders affecting approx. 5,724 people (2,862 properties), in addition to 69 evacuation alerts impacting approximately 32,076 people (16,038 properties).

The extended weather forecast calls for continued hot and dry conditions, with heightened wind activity in the Interior and southeastern B.C.

Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, made the declaration on July 20, 2021, based on the recommendation from the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC and comes into effect tomorrow.

“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. This declaration will address the potential of a mass evacuation scenario and provide our government with the means to secure the accommodation spaces necessary to house our citizens, if necessary.”

More than 3,180 firefighters and resource staff are currently actively engaged in fighting fires in all fire regions in the province. This includes 1,080 contractors and 135 out-of-province resources. A contingent of 100 Mexican firefighters are expected to arrive Saturday July 24th.

The Province says the new arrivals will be deployed to work on wildfires in the Interior under the direction of the BC Wildfire Service, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place. The Mexican firefighters will be tested for COVID-19 prior to leaving Mexico and again on their arrival in British Columbia. They will also be offered COVID-19 vaccinations before being deployed in B.C.

The Quebec and Mexico crews will live and work in operational “bubbles” apart from B.C. crews to minimize COVID-19 risks. They will also remain in their own bubbles when away from the fire lines.

The federal government has responded to and accepted British Columbia’s request for firefighting assistance. In the coming days, federal personnel and resources will be arriving in B.C. to assist with wildfire efforts.

The state of emergency is initially in effect for 14 days once issued and may be extended.

View the current wildfire map here.