B.C. to review 2017 flooding, wildfire seasons

By on December 5, 2017
Premier John Horgan announces former Indigenous relations minister George Abbott and Skawahlook First Nation Hereditary Chief Maureen Chapman to lead review of the 2017 flood and forest fire season. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press).

Fraser-Nicola MLA hopes provincial authorities will find more ways to tap into local knowledge during emergency events.

Delays in processing claims to B.C.’s disaster recovery programs will be part of a review of the 2017 spring floods and summer forest fires led by a former B.C. cabinet minister and a B.C. Indigenous chief will lead a review into the 2017.

Premier John Horgan made the announcement Monday in Victoria, appointing former BC Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott and Maureen Chapman, hereditary chief of the Skawahlook First Nation in the Fraser Valley, to their new roles.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart said she was pleased to hear that the provincial government had ordered a comprehensive review of the fires and floods which affected hundreds of constituents in the region.

“Our hope is that what we’ll do is learn a lot about what happened and where we go from here,” Tegart told the Herald.

The Liberal MLA said she had heard from a number of her constituents, who felt that their extensive knowledge of their own backyards was overlooked by provincial authorities during this year’s emergencies.

“We had teams in from all over the world, and local knowledge is pretty important when you’re looking at planning, when you’re looking at fire behaviour and wind behaviour,” said Tegart. “We had lots of people who had opinions on how things should be done, and felt that they were not listened to.”

Other Interior MLAs have criticized the provincial response to damage claims since the fires were brought under control, citing cases where businesses have waited weeks for payment after staying open to provide goods and services to the relief effort.

Horgan acknowledged the delays in what he called “19th Century systems” for dealing with emergencies and said updating those systems will be a key task for the review.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said B.C.’s emergency systems have worked well, but the “sheer scale” the spring floods and then forest fires Emergency Management B.C. this year.

A record cold winter and large snowpack gave way to a hot summer, with flooding and damage to roads and communities around the province this spring. Highway 97 north to Dawson Creek was heavily damaged by floods, and the Okanagan Valley struggled with high water for weeks.

The fire season devastated the Cariboo and southern Interior, forcing evacuations at 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and other communities as B.C. Wildfire Service brought in assistance from across Canada and other countries to help.

Tegart pointed out that many of the affected communities were in rural areas — where cell phone service and internet coverage is not as ubiquitous as it is elsewhere in the province. That fact, said Tegart, suggests that communication during emergencies is a key issue for the review panel to examine.

“We have areas that were totally cut off, with no communication whatsoever,” said Tegart. “We need to plan for these types of events.”

“What B.C. went through this past year was unprecedented with respect to wildfires and flooding,” Abbott said. “Given the scale of these events and the enormous effort it took to deal with them, this review is an opportunity to take a closer look at what took place and how the government could enhance its response strategies.”

The review will look at all aspects of the province’s response to the floods and wildfires, and is in addition to the reviews being conducted at the BC Wildfire Service and Emergency Management BC.

A report, with recommendations, is due April 30.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to lose their homes during the worst wildfire season in B.C. history in terms of area burned. A province-wide state of emergency was in effect for 10 weeks.

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