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‘Far from being in the clear’: B.C. extends state of emergency as wildfires, drought drag on

Click to play video: 'B.C. extends wildfire state of emergency'
B.C. extends wildfire state of emergency
The B.C. government has extended the wildfire state of emergency by at least two weeks, citing the extreme drought conditions and ongoing wildfire danger. Aaron McArthur reports. – Aug 31, 2023

The B.C. government is extending its state of emergency by another two weeks, with more than 420 wildfires still burning and little relief in sight for extreme drought conditions.

Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma said the province is preparing for the possibility this drought season could last beyond the calendar year and stretch into 2024.

“It’s one of the reasons we’ve been imploring communities and water users to take voluntary measures to conserve water now,” she said in a Thursday press conference.

“It’s a very serious situation that British Columbia has not faced before and it is absolutely necessary that people change their mindset about water here in British Columbia as a result of the impacts that we’re seeing due to climate change.”

Click to play video: 'Uneasy Relations in Shuswap Wildfire Situation'
Uneasy Relations in Shuswap Wildfire Situation

Recent rainfall in parts of B.C. is a sign the province is “slowly moving beyond the worse part of this wildfire season,” but that doesn’t mean British Columbians can let their guards down, Ma said.

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“We must approach this with a balanced perspective,” she said.

“The rain provided our firefighters a chance to breathe, but we are still far from being in the clear.”

As it stands, 27 of the province’s 34 water basins are classified in the two highest categories of drought, with likely or certain adverse impacts on people and ecosystems. Temporary protection orders that restrict water use are in effect until the end of September for the Salmon River, Bessette Creek, Tsolum River and Koksilah River.

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Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said the orders do not impact person use or watering for livestock, fruit trees and market vegetables.

“There is science which monitors streamflow levels and their impact upon fish. It’s only as a last resort to maintain a streamflow level or river flow level that will enable the fish population to survive.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: More properties evacuated from Sorrento'
B.C. wildfires: More properties evacuated from Sorrento

The conditions have exacerbated the wildfire crisis, which as of Thursday, had 4,200 people under evacuation orders and 65,000 more under evacuation alerts. Two public schools are in areas under evacuation orders, while 14 public schools and three independent schools are in areas under alert.

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School is set to begin next week.

“My colleagues in the Ministry of Education and Child Care are working closely with all wildfire-impacted school districts to ensure that they have alternative plans for each of their students should their school not be able to open,” Ma said.

“This may involve supporting students to start school in a neighbouring district, moving schools to another building to start their learning or moving to online learning through one of the provincial online schools.”

There remain 12 wildfires of note in B.C. that are highly visible or threaten public safety. The McDougall Creek fire in West Kelowna, the Stein Mountain and Kookipi Creek fires near Lytton and Boston Bar, and the Bush Creek East wildfire in the Shuswap region continue to be of great concern.

More than 3,500 people are directly involved in the wildfire response, include the BC Wildfire Service, contracted staff, and crews from Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Ontario and the Canadian Armed Forces.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: Latest tally of the cost of fires burning across province'
B.C. wildfires: Latest tally of the cost of fires burning across province

On Thursday, a new Category 1 campfire ban takes effect in the Northwest Fire Centre and in the VanJam, Mackenzie and Fort Nelson fire zones of the Prince George Centre. The Northwest Fire Centre is based in Smithers, while the VanJam fire zone includes the area around the Great Beaver Lake, Whitefish and Greer Creek wildfires of note.

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Outdoor stoves can still be used provided their flames are under 15 centimetres high.

Open burning remains prohibited across the province, apart from Category 1 campfires in Haida Gwaii, and the areas listed above in the Prince George Fire Centre.

According to Cliff Chapman, operations director for the wildfire service, the north is not expected to get any rain in the next two days, but could receive wind gusts up to 60 kilometres an hour.

Adults in need of mental health support in the weeks and months to come can call 310-6789 — no area code needed — at any time. Youth between the ages of 12 and 24 can access support through the Foundry BC app or website.

Click to play video: 'B.C. extends provincial state of emergency as drought drags on'
B.C. extends provincial state of emergency as drought drags on

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