B.C. extends state of emergency due to drought, wildfire

B.C. emergency preparedness minister Bowinn Ma says the provincial state of emergency declared on Aug. 18 has been extended another two weeks as wildfire and drought conditions persist.

The B.C. government is extending its provincial state of emergency for another two weeks as out-of-control wildfires and drought conditions persist.

Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bowinn Ma announced the extension on Thursday as part of an update on the province’s wildfire situation.

“The nature and unpredictability of the wildfires that we are experiencing this year means that we all need to remain vigilant. We will continue to assess the situation and respond and adapt as needed,” Ma said.

The emergency declaration allows the province and its emergency responders to have access to the necessary tools to respond to the wildfire situation.

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Ma says while recent rain has helped wildfire fighting efforts in southern parts of the province, an unseasonable heatwave in northern B.C. has led to an increase in fire activity.

Additionally, Ma says fire activity has been exacerbated by drought conditions. She adds 27 out of 34 basins in B.C. are at level 4 or 5 drought levels — the two most severe rankings.

“We must approach this with a balanced perspective. The rain provided our firefighters a chance to breathe but we are still far from being in the clear,” she said.

B.C. Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bowinn Ma at a wildfire update on Aug. 31, 2023.

B.C. Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bowinn Ma at a wildfire update on Aug. 31, 2023. (CityNews Image)

Though the end of summer is quickly approaching, Ma stresses B.C. is still at the peak of its wildfire season.

“The rain that we experienced over the last couple of days has brought some relief in the south, but the wildfire season continues. People across the province, particularly in the north, must stay vigilant and be prepared to evacuate if needed. So, please, continue to be prepared,” she said.

Over 420 wildfires burning in B.C.; drought persists

Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston says, as of Thursday afternoon, there were 422 wildfires in the province. Of those, 12 are considered “of note.”

Given the slight reprieve from the weather in the province’s south, he says wildfire resources are now being focused on northeastern B.C., with strong winds expected to fan flames in that area.

“We have shifted some crews and aircraft to the north in anticipation of this shift. Let me once again thank our brave fire personnel as well as our very welcome out-of-province personnel from Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Ontario, as well as from the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said.

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As for drought conditions, Ralston says recent rainfall hasn’t helped replenish reserves much — with nearly 80 per cent of the province under the two most extreme drought levels.

“At this point, we need several inches or more rainfall over an extended period to help alleviate our drought conditions. However, significant rainfall doesn’t typically come until the fall, meaning we can anticipate drought conditions to persist in the province for the next while. It is a serious situation,” he said.

The minister also highlights the need for the province to preserve water, with some protections enacted to help preserve fish populations.

“These orders do not impact water use for people’s personal-use market vegetables, fruit, trees, or livestock. These decisions are made as an absolutely last resort because we recognize the very real impact this has on farmers and businesses,” he said, adding drought protections for farmers in B.C. may be needed.

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