Premier tours forest fire fighting operations

John Horgan warns fire season could last weeks or months

More than 3,000 firefighters are battling fires in B.C. | BC Wildfire Service

Premier John Horgan warned forest fires that have prompted a state of emergency could last weeks or even months during a tour of forest fire operations Wednesday in Castlegar.

There are currently 296 wildfires burning in B.C. and more than 3,000 firefighters trying to put them out. There are currently 44 evacuation orders in effect and another 74 evacuation alerts.

A provincial state of emergency officially went into effect at midnight. It's still early in the fire season, and the situation is already bad.

"We've got weeks, perhaps months, to go," Horgan said.

Forecasts for winds and continued dry weather will only worsen the situation.

"We have a bad stretch of weather ahead of us, we have winds picking up -- these are all bad, bad, bad news for the fire service and personnel on the ground," Horgan said.

The increasing scale and severeity of forest fires in B.C. in recent years underscores that the impacts of climate change are not on some distant horizon, but on full display now.

"For those who are living through yet another horrific fire season, this is a graphic reminder of how climate change is with us, not just intermittently, but all the time," Horgan said.

B.C.'s resources are being augmented with firefighters from other provinces, and will soon get 100 firefighters from Mexico. But the U.S. has its own problems to deal with, both its own forest fires and pandemic restrictions, so B.C. may not not be getting the help from the U.S. that it typically would.

"The challenges here in British Columbia are being felt in Washington, Oregon and California," Horgan said. "So we have a coastal challenge right now, so the resources that we would have relied on in the past are fully occupied in their home jurisdictions, when it comes to the U.S."

Meanwhile, one other traditional firefighting ally -- Australia -- is in a lockdown due to spiking COVID-19 cases.

Wine country is particularly challenged by fire, as some of the most intense fires are raging the south Okaganan between Osooyos and Oliver.

For tourism, the fires come at a bad time. Now that pandemic restrictions are being relaxed, B.C.'s tourism industry looked forward to the return of tourists this summer, but now there is a fear that tourists may avoid parts of the province like the Okanagan and the Cariboo.

Horgan warned that some back country areas in B.C. could be closed, and asked British Columbians to avoid back country areas where the fire risk is high.

"Please, please, please stay out of the back country unless you've got a reason to be there," Horgan pleaded.

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv