Permanent emergency response team needed, B.C. Premier David Eby says



B.C.’s top elected official, Premier David Eby, took a tour in West Kelowna to see the wildfire devastation first-hand and talk to local officials and evacuees.

He joined the Global BC News Morning show to talk about the tour in a live interview Wednesday morning.

“There were a couple of key takeaways for me. One was, obviously, the trauma and the devastation for families, even families that didn’t lose their homes but having to flee and go to an emergency centre … a very stressful time,” Eby told Global News.

“I talked to a woman who lost her home and all she wanted to do was find the fire chief of the West Kelowna Fire Department, give him a hug and say, ‘Thank you for saving my life, my family’s lives and my pets.’

“Just remarkable resilience and courage.”

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Eby went on the give kudos and thanks for all the hard work municipal firefighters, along with wildfire firefighters, did to combat the hundreds of fires around the province, especially in areas like West Kelowna where fire conditions were extreme.

“You can see view from above … the line of fire goes right up to the edge of some people’s properties — just remarkable work,” he said.

“People talked about seeing through their doorbell cameras … seeing firefighters placing sprinklers to save their homes. It could have been so much worse.”

Numerous evacuees told Global News that they had trouble accessing Emergency Support Services (ESS) when they were forced to leave their homes.

Eby said he heard similar stories, and said it is not acceptable. He said the province will be looking at taking steps to address ESS issues for future emergencies.

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“I heard from some people at the evacuation centre that during the first nights of the fire, they went to the centre, tried to access supports and had to sleep in a car and return the next day,” Eby said.

“These are staffed largely by volunteers, managed by local governments and I frankly don’t think, despite heroic and amazing efforts by those local governments and volunteers, that this is sufficient for the level of fires and emergencies we are seeing in this province.

“We are going to have to look at a permanent emergency response team, much like how we moved our wildfire service to year-round, because the stories I heard were not acceptable. When you flee your home, you need support.”

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna residents use doorbell cams to thank fire crews'

West Kelowna residents use doorbell cams to thank fire crews

Eby said with climate change and more environmental emergencies happening across the province, a year-round emergency response team will be needed to support British Columbians.

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Some Lytton residents have told Global News not to trust Eby’s promises of recovery and support as they said they heard similar comments when their village was completely destroyed in a wildfire. Eby said he understands their frustrations but the complications of Lytton and the rebuilding are much more complex than the incidents seen in the Okanagan, where nearly 200 structures have been lost recently.

“The province has been working in partnership with the Lytton municipality to get that community rebuilt. A lot of challenges there including major issues related to toxins, pollution as well as Indigenous artifacts and archeological sites. City hall burned down in its entirety, including all city records. We will continue to work with Lytton,” Eby said.

“We will work with local officials to ensure people are supported and get what they need.”

On June 30, 2021, some 300 people in the southern B.C. village fled as an unrelenting fire razed houses, the health centre, the post office, the grocery store and more. Two people died and more were injured.

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