Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale addresses media during a BC wildfire update Friday afternoon in Kamloops at the Forest District Office. (Greg Sabatino photo)

Extra $300 for B.C. wildfire evacuees returning home

Federal defense minister Harjit Sajjan made the announcement in Kamloops Saturday

HAPPENING NOW: Provincial and federal government gives update on the B.C. wildfire situation. For full wildfire coverage visit www.wltribune.com

Posted by Williams Lake Tribune on Saturday, July 22, 2017

The federal government is funding an additional $300 through multiple avenues to help evacuees impacted by the B.C. wildfires when they return home. The funds will match the $300 being provided by the province.

Federal defense minister Harjit Sajjan made the announcement in Kamloops Saturday afternoon, moments after 100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall announced residents in the South Cariboo area were allowed to return home.

The panel of speakers, which included Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, Sajjan and B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, provided an update on the current wildfire situation in the province and how things will proceed going forward.

Goodale and his colleagues – who’d been in Prince George earlier in the day – described the situation as a pan-Canadian effort.

“We’re all very much on the same side when it comes to battling this awful situation in British Columbia,” he said.

“It’s a massive effort and there is a lot of very strong credit due to people locally in all of these communities who have responded to these fires and dealing with first responders, along with thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes.”

Goodale noted while the province is responsible for leading the response effort, the government of Canada’s responsibility is to make sure when support and assistance is needed they provide that support as rapidly as it can.

Currently 44,000 people are evacuated under 51 evacuation orders. Thirty-six-thousand hectares of active forest fires are burning throughout the province, while another 42 evacuation alerts are in place.

He said while the past few days have seen cooler, more favourable weather for fighting forest fires, the forecast in the days to come isn’t looking positive.

“Looking forward from the meteorologists this is still a very difficult and dangerous situation as B.C. is just now beginning what would normally be the start of the fire season. The weather is likely to be challenging for us in the days and weeks ahead.”

In the long-term, Goodale said the priority will be restoring the communities, restoring the infrastructure, restoring the economy and business vitality.

“This disaster takes a hit on B.C. in a variety of ways,” he said. “Forestry, business vitality, reestablishing critical infrastructure … it will be a long haul and the government of Canada will stand with the people of B.C. every step of the way to make sure people can return back to a normal life.

“We are all together shoulder to shoulder standing together on this one.”

Farnworth, meanwhile, echoed Goodale’s sentiments on how the country has banded together in order to face the wildfire crisis.

“It shows the best of B.C., the best of Canada and who we are as a province and a nation,” Farnworth said, reiterating the province will provide an additional $600 per household through the Red Cross for every 14 days of evacuation.

“We’ve got such a great partner with the federal government.”

Currently 3,487 men and women are on the front lines battling wildfires, while an additiona 285 Canadian forces are on the ground helping relieve RCMP efforts, which Farnworth said is a massive help.

And while the provincial government announced $100 million in funding last week to combat wildfires in the province, Farnworth noted roughly $10 million of that has currently been utilized.

“It’s the beginning of the fire season,” he said. “The situation is very fluid, so we will spend as much money required and resources to get the fires under control and get the 44,000 evacuees home but, again, it’s fluid, but we will make sure people get what they need.”

Asked whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be visiting B.C. to assess the situation, Goodale said “he’ll be here in the next number of days.”

“A travel to B.C. is high on his list,” he said. “He and Premier (John) Horgan will be having another detailed conversation in the next coupld of days.”

Meanwhile, in Williams Lake, there is still no timetable for a return for citizens, despite 100 Mile House residents being allowed to return to their homes Saturday.

“The primary issues right now is power and they are working on getting that resolved,” Farnworth told the Tribune.

And while Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb was optimistic Thursday about a potential return for residents to the city early next week Robert Turner, assistant deputy minister for emergency management with the B.C. government, said there is still no indication of when that might happen.

“The wildfire service has not yet advised the lifting of the order,” he said.