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‘We should be humble’: BC cabinet minister answers questions about 2021 wildfire response

During his stop in Vernon on Tuesday, British Columbia’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said the province is working to improve how it handles wildfires.

Murray Rankin held a press conference to promote the provincial government’s plans to combat the trend of more frequent and intense fires.

In 2021, the North Okanagan was threatened for weeks by the White Rock Lake Fire after it exploded in size, prompting waves of evacuations and destroying dozens of homes.

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Rankin was asked what he would say to those who, after what happened last year, lack confidence in the province’s ability to fight the fires.

“I think we are still learning. I think we should be humble,” Rankin said.

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“The degree, severity and frequency [of fires is] unprecedented. Three of the worst wildfires in our history have occurred in the past five years. The province is learning to communicate better with Indigenous communities who were somewhat concerned, I think, it’s fair to say about our quick response.

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Rankin added that the province has a lot to learn and wants to work with First Nations, local governments and the federal government to coordinate fire response and share knowledge.

Rankin was also asked to respond to those who believe the White Rock Lake fire warrants further investigation, as many still have unanswered questions about the fire and how it was handled.

“It’s something I talked about at the [Okanagan Indian Band] chief about this morning. He had the same suggestion that we really need to have a deep analysis of what went right and what went wrong and how we can do better… We’re going to have to learn how to prevent and mitigate. We’re going to learn how to do better in each of those areas, including response,” Rankin said.

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Last fall, the BC Wildfire Service said it had “completed internal debriefings and after-action reviews, but there will be no internal review or specific report on the White Wildfire. Rock Lake”.

In his speech, Rankin pointed out that the province has allocated $2.1 billion over three years to fight wildfires and floods and prevention and recovery.

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The province’s firefighting spending commitments include funding for prevention, FireSmart programs and forest firefighting facilities.

Rankin said the number of people available to fight fires is also being increased.

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“We all know that climate change is real and is contributing to drier and hotter summers, which significantly extends wildfire seasons. Clearly that will continue,” Rankin said.

“Our government is making significant investments to transform the BC Wildfire Service into a year-round service, not the seasonal service of the past, and to transition from a reactive agency to a proactive agency.

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