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BC better prepared for this year's wildfire season, says minister

Last Updated May 10, 2018 at 7:58 pm PDT

Photo taken by a BC wildfire Service member as crews continue to fight major wildfires. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service via Twitter)

BC in better shape in 2018 to handle busy wildfire season

Review of fires and floods and BC's response makes 108 recommendations

KELOWNA (NEWS 1130) – The destruction was widespread as 1.2 million hectares of forest land was scorched during the record-setting 2017 wildfire season, but this year the provincial government stands by the claim it is better prepared than last year.

The government has finished mulling over feedback about how to better prepare for natural disasters following a review of last year’s response to the hundreds of wildfires and flood activity across the province.

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Former BC Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott was one of the authors and he found a lot of information on social media was wrong while farmers, ranchers and logging contractors felt they had the skills and heavy equipment that could have helped fire crews. The review also called for a complete overhaul of disaster response practices.

“Everything we have heard, as part of this process, would suggest that 2017 was not a one-off that happened and will go away,” says Abbott.

Overall, the report made 108 recommendations to improve things and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson admits there are still some gaps that need to be addressed, but he adds 19 of the recommendations in the Flood and Wildfire report have already been implemented.

“Even when the fires were still burning, we were doing detection and correction measures looking at improved techniques internally, and that’s happened since the fires were ended in the fall and before this report came out.”

The province has also announced it is committing $50 million to wildfire prevention and risk reduction over the next three years as part of this year’s tabled budget.

Last summer, the BC government took the unusual step of declaring a state of emergency for 10 weeks due to the wildfires. The fires and floods displaced about 65,000 people and cost the government $630 million.

Evacuations continue due to flooding

Meantime, roughly 3,000 people have been told to leave their homes in the Southern Interior ordered to evacuate their homes in the southern Interior as crews warn of flooding due to extremely heavy snowpack’s, sudden downpours and unseasonably warm temperatures.

Chris Marsh, emergency operations centre director and program manager for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, says there has been significant flooding in the eastern area of the region.

Evacuation orders were issued today for about 1,500 properties covering a large area along the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle rivers, as well as in the Carmi region southeast of Kelowna.

Marsh adds there have been washouts on smaller streams and tributaries in the region as well, isolating some people on their properties. He expects water levels to peak with some bodies of water swelling between 30 and 100 centimetres. Evacuation orders or alerts were listed in seven regional districts and for seven First Nations.

The province also encouraged local governments and First Nations communities along the lower Fraser River to prepare for potential flooding as it experiences high flow rates. In the Central Okanagan’s emergency response centre said there had been localized flood and record creek flows in the area including Kelowna.

Communities along the lower Fraser River warned

The province is telling people living in areas along the lower Fraser River to be ready for possible flooding thanks to increased snowmelt and higher-than-normal temperatures.

The long-range forecast is calling for high temperatures and the river is currently experiencing high flow rates.

“The region has had two weeks of temperatures that average five degrees above normal, and the forecast for next week’s temperatures are expected to be even higher. The lower Fraser has not seen this combination of weather conditions, including high temperatures, snow melt and river flow for a number of years,” says the government in a statement.

The forecast is calling for highs in the 20s for the next several days.

Parts of a Cache Creek under water again

The mayor of a BC community dealing with major flooding for the second straight year says it could be a while before a local state of emergency, in place since April 27th, can be lifted.

Cache Creek’s John Ranta says rising water levels linked to melting snow packs continue to wash out roads across the village and more than five thousand sand bags have already been distributed.

“Most properties along the Bonaparte River are sandbagged now, however, Cache Creek overflowed its banks and that’s a tributary of the Bonaparte River. It flowed over the sidewalk and down Highway 97 and down Highway 1 and left mud and debris in business parking lots.”

Ranta adds that’s been a challenge for many business owners still recovering from last year’s devastating fire season.

“Because of the damage from the wildfires, there’s nothing left there to hold back water if there’s a rainfall event or a sudden melting event. The water doesn’t penetrate the soil after it’s been burnt anymore the way it used to.”

Ranta says the ground scorched by flames during BC’s worst fire season on record can’t hold any water from melting snow packs and rain, so the village is seeking more support from the provincial government.

“To see if there’s not a way they could study the watershed to install some form of small dam that would regulate the flow down Cache Creek because two of the last three years, we’ve had significant flooding with the snow melt in the spring.”

He explains there was a time when water was diverted away from Cache Creek to ranches east of the village, but that’s not happening anymore and that’s part of the problem.

Ranta thinks much of the snow in the watershed has already melted.

“Cache Creek is now confined within its banks and that won’t be a problem for the rest of the year now, unless there’s a strong rainfall event or unbelievably warm temperatures over the next few days. We’ve got our fingers crossed.”

In May of last year, Cache Creek Fire Chief Clayton Cassidy drowned when he was swept away by flood waters.

The body of the 59-year-old was later recovered by some Ashcroft RCMP.