B.C. wildfire situation doesn't warrant state of emergency yet, premier says

A province-wide state of emergency isn't currently necessary to help battle the hundreds of wildfires burning across British Columbia, officials said Tuesday.

Premier John Horgan said the government is doing everything it can to assist wildfire personnel, and that declaring another state of emergency – less than a week after lifting the record-breaking state of emergency prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic – won't change the province's situation.

"We're confident that every resources that can be mustered is being mustered. A state of emergency's not required to do that," Horgan during a news conference from the Kamloops fire centre.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth noted that B.C. is already receiving federal assistance, with nearly 2,700 people working to protect communities from the fires that have already forced thousands of residents to flee their homes.

Just as the last state of emergency was declared on the advice of B.C. health officials, a fire-related state of emergency would only be implemented at the behest of wildfire officials, Farnworth added.

"It's not a political decision," he said. "It's done on the advice of the men and women of the B.C. Wildfire Service."

Horgan, Farnworth and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy spent part of Tuesday flying over some of the wildfire hotspots in the province, as well as the devastated community of Lytton, which was levelled by a fast-moving fire last week.

The officials also spoke with firefighters from Lytton, who have continued to help battle other wildfires in the province after losing their homes.

"It just was inspiring. Despite their person loss, they remained stoic and focussed on the task at hand," said Horgan, who called it a "deeply moving day."

Evacuees have told CTV News they have shelter and food, but in some cases lack clean clothes, toiletries, and any idea of what lies ahead for them. Officials said supports are in place, and stressed that displaced residents must register with Emergency Support Services for help.

Horgan was asked about the lack of a funding announcement for evacuees, similar to the $100 million the B.C. government pledged during the historic 2017 wildfire season that included a payment of $600 for everyone who registered with the Canadian Red Cross.

"We're going to be working with all providers to make sure that the resources are there," Horgan said.

"I want to remind people it's the first week in July and we have a long summer ahead of us. We're not under any illusion that that crisis has passed."

The premier also addressed criticism from some Indigenous leaders, who have called the government's immediate response to the fire "abysmal," pointing to a lack of help conducting evacuations on First Nations land. (LINK)

Horgan denied there was a government failure, noting how quickly the flames overtook the community.

"I talked to the mayor, and he was literally smelling smoke and 15 minutes later, the town was ablaze. You don't have a lot of warning in those circumstances," Horgan said.

"We're going to do the best we can. It's a crisis situation, people are going to be unhappy. I get that and it's not personal."

Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of public support for the residents of Lytton. GoFundMe said more than $1 million had been raised as of Tuesday morning from donors across Canada and the world.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan