Flooding in Grand Forks, May 2018. (Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)

Communities seek reforms to B.C. wildfire, flood response

‘Stay and defend’ homeowners put risk on local government

People who stay and defend their properties and livestock in defiance of an evacuation order should have that right recognized, delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention voted Thursday.

Clint Lambert, area director of the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District, received unanimous support for his call to change B.C. legislation to recognize the choice to defend their homes and livelihood. He was one of the property owners who refused to leave their homes in his rural district around Francois and Ootsa Lake during the 2017 wildfire season.

“They ordered everyone evacuated, and 200 people in my community stayed to protect their homes and livestock and livelihoods,” Lambert said. “The regional district was put in a tight spot. They did cut off fuel and food and supplies for about four or five days, and then they realized that we weren’t going to come out so then they decided they had to help.

“Because of that, we need legislation that takes the liability away from the regional district and puts it on the property owner, because you cannot be gone from your livestock for eight to nine weeks.”

Lambert’s resolution was one of a series coming out of record fire seasons in 2017 and 2018, as well as the flooding that struck Grand Forks in 2018.

RELATED: B.C. residents defy evacuation orders in 2018 wildfires

RELATED: Grand Forks properties to be bought at ‘post-flood value’

Delegates also endorsed Grand Forks Coun. Christine Thompson’s resolutions to make disaster financial assistance easier for small businesses to apply for, and to review insurance rules for communities after a fire or flood.

“This relates to the small business community, who in the face of a disaster had to provide audited financial statements and other information regarding their eligibility to receive funding,” Thompson said. “Small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities, and without them we wouldn’t have communities.”

Delegates also supported Cariboo Regional District chair Al Richmond’s call for additional staffing for Emergency Management B.C.

“In 2017, over 28,000 people in our regional district were evacuated from their homes, and they went all over the province, to Prince George, Kelowna, they went to Vancouver Island, Clearwater, they went to Abbotsford, they went to Chilliwack,” Richmond said.

“The challenges that we had with that type of level three emergency in the province was a lack of volunteers, and a lack of consistency of information that was received at the various evacuation centres.

“We’re asking the province to take a much larger role in the management to ensure that everyone gets the same information, because when people came home, some received different services than others. That’s not the fault of the volunteers, it’s the fault of poor communication in a time of crisis.”


@tomfletcherbc
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