New $200 wildfire evacuation allowance announced

Province introduces measure to ease line-ups, waits for evacuees

In anticipation of another hot, dry summer and more wildfires, the provincial government has announced a new measure they hope will make a big difference for those who will need to evacuate major wildfire events this year.

Learning from the lessons and public frustrations of the massive wildfire and evacuations in West Kelowna last year, it has introduced an accommodation allowance of $200 per night, which is available through Interac e-transfer or at reception centres.

This will provide people with greater flexibility choosing where they stay during an evacuation, whether to stay with family or friends, find a hotel on their own or stay at a campground.

Alternatively, people can still receive a direct referral to a hotel or other accommodation from their local government or First Nation.

“This is an incredibly important option for evacuees,” Bowinn Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Change told a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.

More than 30,000 people were evacuated because of the McDougall Creek Wildfire in West Kelowna last August and there was major frustration as people scrambled for local and regional accommodation and needed to wait at reception centres to learn how they'd be accommodated.

Another measure stemming from the Premier's Expert Task Force on Emergencies, is a new Interac e-transfer direct deposit payment option for people who need help securing accommodation during large-scale evacuations.

This will help cut down on long lineups at evacuation reception centres and allow people more flexibility and quicker access to emergency funds during an evacuation.

People will also have the option of visiting a reception centre to receive financial support in person.

Big wildfire season predicted

A BC wildfire expert said despite the welcome rains and cooler temperatures in May and early June, the province could still expect a significant wildfire season, especially in the Northeast and Central Interior.

Matt MacDonald, the Lead Forecaster at the BC Wildfire Service, said the moisture seen in recent weeks was good news in that it bolstered the near-record low snowpack levels and kept mountainous terrain from being susceptible to dry lightning strikes.

However, he suggested, given the forecast for a hotter and drier than normal July and August, significant wildfires are likely and all it takes is seven to 10 days of even mild warmth coupled with dry weather to increase the risks.

“This could very well be another challenging wildfire season, due to persistent drought, the lack of snow and the remaining holdover fires [from 2023].”

Holdover fires

MacDonald said so-called holdover fires in the Prince George Fire Centre, which covers a massive area in the northeast, remained a challenge.

While fifteen of these 88 fires from last year had been extinguished, the remainder posed significant challenges, some of them burning six feet deep underground and destroying roots which in turn made trees simply fall over.

Published 2024-06-12 by Glenn Hicks

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