225 Canadian Armed Forces members headed to B.C.

Williams Lake. Courtesy: Michael George Sanchez White .

KAMLOOPS, B.C. – The federal government is sending 225 additional Canadian Armed Forces members to help on the ground in British Columbia, where more than 45,000 people remain out of their homes due to fast-moving wildfires.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the unarmed military members will assist with road checks in key access points in the Interior, freeing local police to do other duties.

“I’m pleased that (Ottawa has) acted as quickly as they have done in terms of recognizing the pressure that not only the people fighting the fires are under, but also the RCMP and policing forces,” he told reporters in Kamloops.

“There are a lot of tired people out there who need a break.”

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Farnworth said that 150 additional military members were coming, but the Canadian Armed Forces clarified later Thursday that, in fact, 225 personnel were on their way to Williams Lake.

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The members will join 150 personnel already in the area, bringing the total number of military members supporting emergency management efforts in B.C. to 375.

Farnworth, who was sworn in Tuesday as part of B.C.’s new NDP government, said he, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson, and Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness Jennifer Rice, will meet with federal ministers on the weekend.

The Canadian Armed Forces has already sent a number helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to the province.

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan extended a provincewide state of emergency for another two weeks.

Evacuees are eligible for $600 from a previously announced $100-million provincial fund, and Horgan said that they will be able to access an additional $600 for every two weeks they are displaced.

Former premier Christy Clark, now leader of the Opposition, established the $100-million fund nearly two weeks ago and is now calling for the NDP to double it.

Farnworth said the fund is currently sufficient, but that the government would spend whatever is necessary on the emergency.

“This is just the start of the fire season,” he said.

“I hope we get a honking big rainstorm that puts everything out, but we’re just at the beginning and so we’re going to make sure that people are looked after.”

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The forecast called for rain in some parts of B.C. on Thursday, but about 140 fires are still burning in the province. More than 3,500 square kilometres of land have been scorched by wildfires this year.

Donaldson was asked whether B.C. had done enough to prevent wildfires and, in particular, whether he thought recommendations in a 2003 report after the province’s last major wildfire emergency had been adequately implemented.

“Some of the recommendations were acted on. Others need further action,” he said.

“Today, I want to focus on the public safety aspects: people’s homes, people’s livestock, people’s animals, people’s lives. There’s going to be a lot of time to look at what’s been done in the past and to do things better in the future.”

Residents of an area on the outskirts of Penticton, in B.C.’s Okanagan, joined the thousands of people in B.C. who have had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

A fire broke out Thursday morning in the West Bench suburb and first responders swiftly conducted evacuations of homes threatened by the flames, said Peter Weeber, chief administrative officer for the city.

“There were a couple homes impacted, just roofs at this point, we haven’t lost any structures from what I understand,” said Weeber.

Officials did not have an exact number of residents who had been forced to flee, but Mark Woods of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen said at least two or three streets were evacuated.

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The district said Thursday afternoon that the fire appeared contained.

Officials in one of the regions hardest-hit by the wildfires, the Cariboo Regional District, said Wednesday that 41 homes had been lost.

Another eight homes were confirmed lost in the Central Okanagan region last weekend and almost three dozen trailers were destroyed when fire raced through the Boston Flats trailer park next to Cache Creek, B.C.

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