B.C. government declares province-wide state of emergency over wildfire situation

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The B.C. government has declared a province-wide state of emergency due to the growing number of aggressive wildfires threatening communities.

Premier David Eby announced the declaration at a news conference Friday, following a challenging 24 hours that saw fast-spreading wildfires trigger thousands of new evacuation orders and alerts across the province.

"We are declaring a provincial state of emergency to ensure we have access to any tools that we may need to respond to this situation," Eby said.

Earlier in the day, B.C.'s emergency management minister suggested a state of emergency was unnecessary – though the premier revealed there was a "rapid deterioration" of the wildfire situation over the course of Friday afternoon.

The number of evacuees province-wide tripled to 15,000 in a single hour, Eby said. Upwards of 23,000 other residents are on evacuation alert, meaning they must be prepared to flee on short notice.

Eby urged the public to closely monitor wildfire updates, and comply with any evacuation orders that are issued. Fire crews and RCMP officers had to re-enter evacuation zones overnight to pull people from their homes, even as massive fires were growing at alarming rates nearby.

"Please don't put firefighters at risk by staying in your home if you're under an evacuation order," the premier said.

The government also asked that people avoid travelling to wildfire-affected areas to keep the roads clear for firefighters and other emergency responders. 

The province's wildfire situation has escalated since Thursday due to a mix of tinder-dry conditions, gusting winds and dry lightning, which sparked new fires and caused explosive growth on existing ones.

The McDougall Creek blaze burning in West Kelowna exploded to an estimated 6,800 hectares and has consumed an unconfirmed number of properties, despite the best efforts of provincial and local fire crews.

With more lightning in the forecast, officials are expecting the trouble to continue heading into the weekend.

"We know that under stressful times, under difficult circumstances, British Columbians rise to the occasion," Eby said. "British Columbians are generous, compassionate and resourceful and we support each other, and we're going to keep doing that work."

Declaring a state of emergency grants the province extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act, allowing for swifter responses to rapidly developing crises.

Those powers can include restricting travel, forcing evacuations, and even commandeering personal property if doing so is deemed necessary for disaster response.

The government previously declared province-wide states of emergency in March 2020 as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in November 2021 following the historic floods and landslides that left several communities under water and cut off highway access to the Lower Mainland.

The declarations remain in place for two weeks by default, at which time they can be renewed or cancelled. Officials also have the ability to call them off at any time.