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‘Unified strategy at risk’: People urged again to heed B.C. wildfire evacuation orders

Click to play video: 'Emergency management minister repeats call to heed evacuation orders'
Emergency management minister repeats call to heed evacuation orders
WATCH: With a provincial state of emergency still in effect, Emergency Management Minister and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma is reiterating a call for people to leave their communities when directed to do so by wildfire officials. – Aug 23, 2023

It’s been nearly a week since mass evacuations were ordered due to raging wildfires in B.C., but the province is still repeating its call for people to heed them.

“I know that some people want to stay and fight. I understand that, but it is also my duty to be clear about the risks to people and emergency crews,” Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma said Wednesday.

“This has become an increasingly divisive issue within the community and outside, and let me be clear our collective fight is with the wildfire, but in order to do this our efforts need to be united.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: Improved conditions for firefighters in Central Okanagan'
B.C. wildfires: Improved conditions for firefighters in Central Okanagan

While their intentions may be laudable, the minister said those who shelter in place put the BC Wildfire Service’s “whole unified strategy at risk.” Certain firefighting tactics can’t be deployed with civilians in the way, she explained, nor can firefighters do their jobs effectively if their gear has been moved.

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“You must leave immediately,” Ma urged of those under orders. “People can’t be doing their own thing.”

Heavy rain in the forecast for parts of B.C. and clearer skies have stared to turn the tide in some of the fire fights, as well as give residents a closer look at the damage. Nevertheless, more than 25,000 British Columbians remain on evacuation orders, and over 37,000 are under evacuation alerts.

A provincial state of emergency is still in effect, with 377 wildfires burning. The McDougall Creek fire in West Kelowna, the Kookipi Creek fire by Boston Bar, the Ross Moore Lake fire near Kamloops, and the Bush Creek East fire in the Shuswap continue to require significant resources.

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Amid threats and abuse, B.C. fire chief urges compassion

According to Forests Minister Bruce Ralston, about 100 Mexican firefighters arrived in B.C. to help on Wednesday. Across the province, more than 3,500 personnel are “directly engaged” in the firefight, including 652 firefighters from 108 municipal fire departments.

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At a morning update in Kelowna, officials confirmed 174 properties had been partially or completely destroyed by fires, 84 of which were in West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation.

The wildfire service has said smoke conditions and visibility improved “significantly” in the Okanagan Valley in the past day, and some 17 helicopters are now able to bucket the Grouse complex, which includes the McDougall Creek, Walroy Lake and Clarke Cree wildfires.

More than 10,000 people have registered for emergency support services in relation to the McDougall Creek fire alone, Ma added.

“As of this morning, everyone in our system in Lake country, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Westbank and Westbank First Nation has been contacted in one way or another,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Premier tours wildfire-impacted communities'
Premier tours wildfire-impacted communities

Meanwhile, the Stein Mountain fire near Lytton is growing, producing new evacuation orders on Tuesday night.

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“I want to acknowledge the stress that that causes for a community, especially a community like Lytton First Nation, who has already been through so much,” Ma said.

“It’s a reminder that we must be agile in case our circumstances change.”

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