As I write this column, for the first time in almost a week, rain has hit many parts of our region, smoke is somewhat abating and some evacuation orders have been lifted. This is good news.
We also owe immense gratitude to our incredible firefighting community and our other emergency responders who came from far and wide across not just British Columbia but other parts of Canada and from other countries. They continue tp work incredibly long hours under difficult, dangerous and demanding conditions.
Our community has come together in many extraordinary ways and there are far too many stories to mention in the space of some 600 words in this column. However, I would like to ask that people take a moment to recognize that some residents will return to a family home that is no longer there.
People in this situation face a challenge that cannot be easily put into words. If you know someone who has been displaced by these fires, please reach out and do everything that you can to help out.
Another group was not displaced or evacuated by the fire, but lost work due to business closures and other travel restrictions. For those in that situation, they have lost income at a time when many have bills at an all-time high and those bills do not go away at the end of the month. Any donations you can make to a local food bank or other organizations that help those in need will be greatly appreciated.
I was asked recently: "What has changed from the Okanagan Mountain wildfire in 2003 to the McDougall Creek wildfire of 2023?”
While I was not an elected official in 2003, it is an important question. I have heard from some involved in the 2003 wildfire and many involved in our current fire situation. From the reports I have heard, communication is vastly improved today. Evacuation orders and alerts happen more proactively and are better communicated in real-time.
Unfortunately, there are still processing problems getting large groups of evacuated and onto emergency assistance programs quickly and efficiently. That is particularly important for those who are financially struggling and cannot afford any additional funds out of pocket.
In some areas of my riding, such as with the Crater Creek fire (located west of Keremeos), Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band has publicly questioned why some actions were not initiated sooner. From my perspective, these are important questions that need to be answered.
I also believe it is essential we look at post-wildfire mitigation going forward. Fire activity can have a serious impact on drainage that can enhance flood risks, as we observed in Merritt and Princeton. Another concern is fire contaminants entering local reservoirs during periods of intense rain. These are all factors I believe we must be proactive on, and in a timely manner.
I am also curious if, in the future, there will be a formal review of provincial wildfire situation. There are certainly many accolades to be shared, along with a few challenges.
On a positive note, and based on my experience, communications between different levels of government, including first responders, civil servants and elected officials, have improved dramatically. That is important as obstacles must be identified quickly so they can be addressed.
My question this week is to anyone who is impacted by these wildfires:
What would you like to share with your elected officials about this —still unfolding—experience?
I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll-free 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Conservative MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.