By Barb Brouwer
Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo’s presentation to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District board on Sept. 14 sparked comments on wildfire response.
Area D Director Dean Trumbley insisted the BC Wildfire Service and the Ministry of Forests need a fresh approach to fighting wildfires and noted the growing frustration between government and residents on who should be on the frontlines of a wildfire.
He cautioned that it is only a matter of time before some untrained firefighter dies after refusing to obey an evacuation order and stays to try to protect their own properties.
Trumbley called for all levels of government to work together to identify resources ahead of time so people could be trained and prepared to work within the provincial system during a wildfire.
“Is there something that’s even on the radar?” he asked, taking issue with comments made by “some politicians” over the summer, noting that the growing anger among untrained residents means more will take action on their own. “There would have been a very different narrative here after some of those statements were made if someone had died. Once somebody dies you start to realize how less important structures are.”
Kyllo replied that wildfires and associated smoke have had a huge and costly impact on tourism, health and wildlife habitat. He maintained that he had no intention to criticize BCWS or government for decisions that were made.
However, while acknowledging that no structure is more valuable than the cost of life, he defended the rights of families and businesses to protect their own properties, and said there were lessons that should have been learned following the fires of 2003 and 2021, including different strategies that could be used in fighting wildfires.
“There are lots of different things attached to people’s decisions to protect their homes,” he said. “In the absence of government’s ability to protect people’s homes and livelihood, in this country, people have the right and ability to step up.”
Kyllo referred to several North Shuswap residents who did stay behind on the Bush Creek East wildfire and were able to extinguish flaming embers that were landing near their homes. He called it a very different concept than people being out on the interface and putting their own and other lives at risk.
“This individual man and two boys stayed behind; they did not put anyone at risk, had egress by way of the lake and saved their home,” he said. “I don’t encourage people putting themselves in harm’s way but many people who stayed behind are contractors, world class loggers, with skidders, dozers and heavy equipment.”
As well, Kyllo said many North Shuswap residents were under-insured or lacked insurance and would have lost everything.
While he says he was heartened by BCWS’ attempts to provide training rather than chastise would-be wildfire fighters, he had issues with the provincial response to the fire.
“We heard time and time again that they were using all available resources, but that’s a half-truth because they were only referring to BCWS equipment,” he said, noting there is equipment throughout the province that could have been used but wasn’t.
Kyllo also called for the province to adopt new technology.
“In B.C.we have this idea that we can only fly aerial bombers when there’s visibility, but technologies have really changed and other jurisdictions have started to use them,” he said, referring to aircraft in B.C. that, he says, have stopped fighting fires and are taking their technology and fighting fires elsewhere. “What we’ve seen in the Shuswap this season, in that in the smoke there was basically no aircraft off the ground in order to fight this fire.”
Kyllo said that now all levels of government need to work collaboratively to get people back to their communities and look to provide training through the Justice Institute and the Ministry of Forests.
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