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‘There could have been more done’: Debate over B.C. wildfire response heats up after document leaked

Click to play video: 'Debate over B.C. wildfire response heats up after document leaked' Debate over B.C. wildfire response heats up after document leaked
WATCH: Interior politicians are slamming the B.C. government's wildfire response after a document surfaced suggesting the province knew it didn't have enough staff for the challenging season ahead. However, the province is hitting back arguing claims it is leaving resources on the table are false – Aug 18, 2021

Interior politicians are slamming the BC government’s wildfire response after a document surfaced suggesting the province knew it didn’t have enough staff for the challenging season ahead.

However, the province is hitting back and arguing claims it is leaving resources on the table are false.

Click to play video: 'Growing questions about government management of B.C. wildfire battle' Growing questions about government management of B.C. wildfire battle
Growing questions about government management of B.C. wildfire battle – Aug 18, 2021

The document was written by a forestry organization and details a meeting between the BC Wildfire Service and the forestry industry in mid-July.

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The meeting minutes say there was a call for the “forestry industry to fight fires independently,” as the BC Wildfire Service “does not have enough staff.”

The minutes, written on July 12 before the massive White Rock Lake Fire had even sparked, described the current wildfire situation as challenging, said all BC Wildfire Service staff were currently working and there was a need for “every available resource.”

Read more: ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’: B.C. woman loses everything to White Rock Lake fire

The document also says very limited air support was available.

The document was first publicized by a documentary filmmaker who has been covering the White Rock Lake wildfire and shared with Global News.

The chair of the Thompson Nicola Regional District, whose constituents in the Monte Lake and Paxton Valley have suffered significant fire losses, said he’s not surprised by the contents of the leaked minutes.

“In just about every meeting that we’ve had with them…[the BC Wildfire Service] have said that they are short of resources,” Gillis said.
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Gillis believes more could have been done early in the season.

Read more: Before-and-after photos show homes lost to B.C.’s White Rock Lake wildfire

“We’ve known since June that this was going to be a frightful fire season. I get emails daily from private fire-fighting companies from Alberta and Saskatchewan saying, ‘Look, we’ve got all this equipment. We’ve got a thousand people available. Why aren’t we getting any answers?’ They are not being utilized by BC Wildfire,” Gillis said.

“I think there is very little doubt that if some of these very very sophisticated fire fighting apparatuses had been employed in places like Monte Lake a lot of this tragedy could have been avoided.”

The opposition MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson Todd Stone said he has been getting similar messages from contractors.

“We hear from contractors and private companies almost every day of the week. [They] have been saying to us for the last four to five weeks, ‘We have assets. We have air assets. We have land assets, We have private fire fighting crews. We have water suppression systems…. that we are trying to get in front of the BC government, but we can’t get a callback,” said Stone.

However, the province categorically denies it is not using all available resources.

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Read more: Mount Law wildfire: West Kelowna residents return home, grateful to firefighters

“Over 1,000 contractors are working on the fires in British Columbia and to suggest that [the] wildfire service has been leaving resources idle in other province is simply false and not true,” said Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth.

Farnworth said the wildfire service has been preparing for the fire season since the beginning of the year and meeting with the logging industry to ask for assistance, detailed in the leaked document, was part of that normal process.

“We were very successful in getting significant air support and, working with other provinces, coordinated resources through the central agency based in Winnipeg to ensure that we’ve got resources on the ground and in the air. [It] has been incredibly successful and again to suggest that that’s not the case is simply false information,” Farworth said.

It is standard practice for the forestry industry to be involved in BC’s fire response.

Read more: Lytton, B.C. resident launches lawsuit against CN and CP Rail for allegedly sparking wildfire

The forestry organization which wrote the meeting minutes said it is not unusual for forestry to fight fires by itself, in communication with the BC Wildfire Service, if the fire isn’t threatening a community.

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The province said it currently has 3,849 personnel and 208 aircraft fighting the 267 fires burning in B.C.

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