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'Too many First Nations are at risk:' B.C. Indigenous leaders demand wildfire state of emergency

Last Updated Jul 17, 2021 at 6:22 pm PDT

Summary

Premier John Horgan has maintained a state of emergency is not necessary until emergency responders request one

UBCIC says First Nations communities threatened, coordination and resources required immediately

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is joining a chorus of voices demanding the province declare a state of emergency due to wildfires that are disproportionately threatening First Nations communities.

Premier John Horgan, asked again Thursday why his government has not made this move, maintained it is not necessary. He also repeated that he is following the lead of Emergency Management BC and the BC Wildfire Service.

“I’m absolutely prepared to call a state of emergency when it is required by those professionals that are putting their lives on the line to protect families, and property in British Columbia. I think most British Columbians would prefer that I listened to the people that know what they’re doing, and that’s exactly what we intend to do,” he said.

“When the professionals ask for it, we’ll do it. They haven’t yet. We have significant challenges we have the resources to manage that, to the best of our ability, and if there was a state of emergency called today, it would have no impact on resources because they’re already in place. There is not one advantage at all from calling a state of emergency except to bring more people together, and I think we’ve had unprecedented cooperation.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip describes the premier’s approach as “ludicrous,” saying the situation is getting more dire with each passing day.

“Hundreds and hundreds of evacuation alerts and orders have been issued, and the number of wildfires that spring up is increasing daily,” he says.

“The situation is worsening. It’s not getting any better. When you consider the gravity of what happened in Lytton, where the entire town burned, I think too many of our communities are at risk. Too many First Nations are at risk. There’s a groundswell of voices being raised throughout the province for Premier Horgan to do the right thing.”

RELATED: Extremely aggressive’ B.C. wildfires straining resources, no state of emergency declared

In an update from the province Thursday, officials said there were over 300 active wildfires and resources have been stretched so thin that crews can’t be deployed to every new burn. At that point, residents in more than 2,800 hundred properties had been forced to evacuate their homes, with 10,000 more are on alert — ready to leave at a moment’s notice. More than 200,000 hectares have already burned, and with a provincial forecast that includes lightning and dry conditions — there is no reprieve in sight.

RELATED: B.C.’s response to First Nations members fleeing Lytton fire ‘woefully inadequate’: leader

Phillip says declaring a state of emergency would underscore the urgency of the situation, increase coordination, improve communication, and bolster resources.

“We don’t have the resources available in terms of firefighting equipment and all of the technology that is required to properly prepare communities and actively engage in the actual fighting of fires. Many many many first nations don’t even have a fire hall, they don’t even have fire trucks. In spite of the courageous efforts of the frontline firefighters, there’s a lack of coordination of all of the resources. Our people are seeking fundamental supports — and they’re just not available,” he says.

“Because of our vulnerable communities without the capacity and infrastructure to fight these fires we’re extremely upset that as day after day goes by a state of emergency declaration is not being made by Victoria. We find it to be highly irresponsible and reckless. The people of British Columbia deserve more decisive leadership than that continuous dithering on the part of the Horgan government. This is a crisis, and it needs to be addressed accordingly.”

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