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‘We should be humble’: B.C. cabinet minister responds to questions about 2021 wildfire response

Click to play video: 'Minister visits Vernon, B.C. to promote B.C.’s wildfire response' Minister visits Vernon, B.C. to promote B.C.’s wildfire response
WATCH: After last year's vicious wildfire season, the province is promoting its plans to address the trend toward more frequent and intense blazes. A provincial minister visited Vernon today to talk about B.C.’s response. However, he also faced questions about the province's handling of the 2021 fires – Apr 19, 2022

During his stop in Vernon on Tuesday, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation stressed that the province is working to improve the way it handles wildfires.

Murray Rankin held a press conference to promote the provincial government’s plans to address the trend toward more frequent and intense blazes.

In 2021, the North Okanagan was menaced for weeks by the White Rock Lake fire after it exploded in size, causing waves of evacuations and destroying dozens of homes.

Read more: 2021 fire season ‘tremendously challenging,’ but not worst on record: BC Wildfire Service report

Rankin was asked what he would say to those who, after what happened last year, don’t have faith in the province’s ability to fight fires.

“I think we are always learning. I think we should be humble,” said Rankin.

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“The degree and the severity and the frequency [of fires is] unprecedented. Three of the worst wildfire years in our history occurred over the last five years. The province is learning to do better with communication with Indigenous communities who were somewhat concerned, I think, it is fair to say about our early response.”

Read more: White Rock Lake officially lightning caused, other major 2021 wildfire investigations ongoing

Rankin added that the province has a lot to learn and wants to work with First Nations, local governments and the federal government to coordinate fire responses and share knowledge.

Rankin was also asked to respond to those who feel the White Rock Lake fire warrants a thorough review, as many still have unanswered questions about the blaze and how it was handled.

“That is something I talked to the [Okanagan Indian Band] chief about this morning. He had the same suggestion that we need to really have a thorough analysis of what went right and what went wrong and how we can do better…We are going to need to learn how to prevent and mitigate. We are going to learn how to do better in each of those areas including response,” Rankin said.
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Read more: British Columbia set to move to year-round BC Wildfire Service

Last fall, BC Wildfire Service said it had “completed internal debriefs and After Action Reviews but there will be no specific internal review or report about the White Rock Lake wildfire.”

In his speech, Rankin highlighted that the province has allocated $2.1-billion over three years to address wildfire and flooding prevention and recovery.

Read more: B.C. lays out $2.1 billion in spending to recover from floods and fires

The province’s fire spending commitments include funding for prevention, FireSmart programs, and wildfire service facilities.

Rankin said the number of personnel available to fight fires is also being expanded.

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

“We know, all of us, that climate change is real and it contributes to drier and hotter summers and that’s extended the wildfire seasons dramatically. It’s clear that is going to continue,” Rankin said.

“Our government is making significant investments to transform the BC Wildfire Service into a year-round service, not the seasonal service of the past, and to go from a reactive to a proactive agency.”

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