Jennifer Rice, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for emergency preparedness, gets a tour of the gabion basket and sandbag fortifications built by Canadian Armed Forces to protect Twin Lakes properties. (Submitted photo)

Rice on emergency preparedness in wildfire season

Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness talks about B.C.’s state of emergency

This is the second wildfire season in B.C. that MLA Jennifer Rice has been the Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness, and it’s the second consecutive summer a state of emergency has been declared in the province.

Rice visited Telegraph Creek, where two fires have displaced thousands of people. While the fire there is contained, the access road is not yet safe, hydro still needs to be reconnected, and there are trees to be cleared.

“As soon as it’s made safe and secure, we want to help people back home as soon as possible and help them on the road to recovery,” Rice said Aug. 15, the day the state of emergency was declared.

READ MORE: B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

“These are really trying times for people, but the community spirit was so profound in Dease Lake. Everybody was calm, they understood. Of course they were anxious to get home, but they were very patient. The outpouring of support was pretty phenomenal,” Rice said.

The state of emergency will last for 14 days, and the cabinet can vote to extend it. Rice said that extension was granted last year in the unprecedented 2017 wildfire season.

In those 14 days, the Ministry of Emergency Management and BC Wildfire staff can call upon local fire departments to use equipment. The Canadian Armed Forces are sending 200 personnel to B.C. to join the wildfire effort.

“The order allows them to basically commandeer the people and the resources needed,” Rice said. “Right now, until the state of emergency was declared, it’s on a voluntary basis.”

For her part, as the Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness, Rice is working with Emergency Management BC to coordinate information and resources. She’ll support the Public Safety Minister, who declared the state of emergency.

“We really need to shift from the notion of managing emergencies to preparing for emergencies. While we still need to manage emergencies, having a parliamentary secretary that gets to focus on preparedness will help us do a better job of managing emergencies in the future.”

A report from the last wildfire season in B.C. came out this spring, and Rice said they’ve already put some of its recommendations in place. Climate change, she said, is another factor that is difficult to manage.

“We had 40 degrees last week in communities throughout British Columbia. The drought rating if very, very high. These are all symptoms of climate change that we have to mitigate and adapt for.”

A big part of preparedness, Rice said, is reminding people of the difference between an evacuation alert and an evacuation order. In an alert, people need to pay attention to notices from local government and keep emergency supplies ready. An order mean they need to leave as soon as possible. Rice recommends checking the resources and lists on PreparedBC to find local updates and what to pack in an emergency kit.

READ MORE: Telegraph Creek wildfires merge into one

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