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‘Increasingly divisive issue’: Ma says B.C. evacuations orders must be followed

Emergency Management Minister says equipment being moved can put the ‘whole unified strategy at risk’
Premier David Eby, left to right, looks on with B.C. Minister of Emergency Readiness Bowinn Ma, Federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan and incident commander Brad Litke as Wildcat Helicopter pilot Folef Graafland goes over safety instructions before boarding to survey wildfire damage in the area at Wildcat Helicopters in West Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C.’s Emergency Managament Minister Bowinn Ma says that while she understands it’s a remarkably difficult time for British Columbians living in areas under evacuation order, not evacuating can lead to even more risk.

During the latest update on the B.C. wildfire situation Wednesday (Aug. 23), Ma said she knows some people want to stay and fight the fires around their homes, but it is also her duty to be clear about the risks to people and emergency crews.

“When unauthorized people are in evacuation areas it escalates the danger involved for everyone. It also limits the kind of wildfire fighting tactics that the BC wildfire service can deploy.”

She said it directs critical resources away from the wildfire fight itself in searching for moved equipment, redoing work that’s already been done to set up structural protection or “just trying to manage an unpredictable situation made even more unpredictable by well-meaning but uncoordinated firefighting efforts.”

It has become an “increasingly divisive issue” within the community and outside.

“Let me be clear, our collective fight is with the wildfire. But in order to do this, our effort needs to be united, we need to work together, not against each other.”

In recent days, there have been issues with people not following evacuation orders, as well as firefighting equipment being stolen in the North Shuswap.

READ MORE: Firefighting equipment stolen including ATVs in North Shuswap

Ma said BC Wildfire Service is “actively working to open up a dialogue with those behind the lines who are refusing to leave to try to create an understanding of the seriousness of the situation.” Officials are reaching out to skilled, experienced people in the Shuswap to try and incorporate them into their work.

“We can’t have equipment that’s been staged for firefighters being moved and it’s not there when it’s needed. That puts the whole unified strategy at risk and it puts people and their homes at risk.”

Last week, BC Wildfire Service operations director Cliff Chapman said there were a few instances were wildfire service staff and RCMP had to go back into evacuation zones to get people out.

“That puts people’s lives at risk,” said Chapman, adding it also takes a significant toll on staff trying to get people out of the way of fires moving “at rates we rarely see in British Columbia.”

READ MORE: RCMP helping to evacuate British Columbians, secure areas


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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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