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B.C. premier defends not declaring state of emergency over wildfires

"If there was a state of emergency called today, it would have no impact on resources because they are already in place," Premier John Horgan said at a news conference on Friday. "We're putting all hands on deck and the state of emergency is not required to do that."
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The sky glows orange as the Tremont Creek wildfire burns on a mountain in the distance behind St. Gerard's Catholic Church, in Ashcroft, B.C., on Thursday, July 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — There would be few advantages to declaring a provincial state of emergency in the battle against wildfires in British Columbiam as the province uses all of its available resources to fight them, Premier John Horgan said Friday.

Opposition politicians and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, parts of which were under evacuation orders or alerts, have urged Horgan to declare an emergency. 

"If there was a state of emergency called today, it would have no impact on resources because they are already in place," Horgan said at a news conference. "We're putting all hands on deck and the state of emergency is not required to do that."

More than 300 wildfires were burning in the province on Friday, affecting about 1,500 properties where residents were ordered to leave earlier this week and evacuation alerts remained in effect for many more, including the entire communities of 100 Mile House, Ashcroft, and Cache Creek.

Firefighters from Quebec and Mexico are en route to assist with local efforts, Horgan added.

The Ministry of Public Safety said in a statement that 20 firefighters from Quebec were due to arrive Friday, while 100 firefighters from Mexico will arrive in Abbotsford, B.C., on July 24.

The Quebec and Mexico crews will live and work in operational bubbles apart from local firefighters to minimize COVID-19 risks. 

Horgan said the normal contingent of Australian firefighters won't be able to assist due to COVID-19 concerns, while fire crews from western U.S. states are busy with fire behaviour similar to that in B.C. 

"I'm confident based on briefings from the fire service ... that we have the resources in place to do what we can," he said.

Horgan said he would declare a state of emergency only when told to by firefighters and Emergency Management B.C.

Brendan Ralfs of Emergency Management B.C. said during a media briefing on Thursday that a state of emergency would change little in the firefighting effort.

"During this current event, a provincial declaration of state of emergency has not been necessary to provide assistance to people, to access funding, or to co-ordinate or obtain additional resources," he said, adding one would be called if it was required.

Environment Canada said heat warnings for parts of the central and southern Interior have ended, but wildfire smoke means air-quality advisories were posted for most of the eastern half of B.C., with conditions not expected to improve through the weekend.

Some parts of the Interior could see showers, but the weather office said any rain in the wildfire-ringed area of 100 Mile House over the next 24 hours could be accompanied by lightning.

About 69 per cent of the active fires listed by the B.C. Wildfire Service on Friday were believed to have been started by lightning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2021.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press