British Columbia is establishing an expert disaster task force tasked with providing swift response and support for individuals and communities dealing with climate crises during the ongoing historic wildfire season. Almost 400 structures, predominantly homes, have been obliterated, as reported by Premier David Eby.
Eby broke the news during his visit to the North Shuswap Lake area, just an hour to the east of Kamloops, which was significantly affected by the Bush Creek East wildfire. Eby stated at a news conference in Kamloops that the expert task force will collaborate with the public service, the emergency response team, and the wildfire service to deploy additional resources fast and efficiently.
Despite evacuation orders, certain residents in the Shuswap area opted to stay home, battling the quick-spreading flames. Eby reported that hundreds of buildings have been destroyed and thousands of people made homeless through evacuation. Furthermore, with the tragic loss of two young firefighters on duty this summer, Eby acknowledged this season as the province’s most devastating in recorded history.
Rapid succession of climate threats, such as drought, landslides, and floods, is now BC’s new reality, added Eby. The Premier also highlighted the pressing need for action due to the historic scale of the wildfires and the imminent threats of both drought and potentially heavy rainfall.
While the precise structure of the task force along with its mandate, timeline, and personnel remain undisclosed, Eby hinted it could consist of a combination of expert government officials, locality-based and independent people, encompassing municipal and wildfire services workers. The primary role of the task force will be to drive on-the-ground changes and ensure timely delivery of resources where needed.
The task force will also contribute to volunteer recruitment, collaboration with indigenous communities and front-line workers, and improving support accessibility for evacuees. Eby highlighted that a key area of focus would be the expedited access to emergency funds and accommodations.
However, the proposed initiative was met with criticism. Opposition BC United House Leader Todd Stone questioned the government’s new bureaucratic approach despite not having enacted the recommendations from a past wildfire report published in 2018. Meanwhile, Green Leader Sonia Furstenau pressed for community leader engagement in climate emergency response rather than initiating an “expert task force.”
Eby’s New Democrat government has plans for legislation reform concerning the province’s Emergency Program Act in the coming fall. Furthermore, he outlined his expectation for the task force to align with federal disaster response programs.
Extreme wind conditions have led to further flare-ups from the 400 active wildfires. Over 170 of these fires are determined to be out of control. With the prospect of lifting evacuation orders and alerts not in sight according to Central Okanagan Emergency Operations, the work of BC Hydro crews to replace damaged infrastructure remains ongoing.