Premier David Eby toured areas of the Central Okanagan, devastated by three wildfires, by helicopter Tuesday (Aug. 22) afternoon.
“The devastation for families who have lost everything, homes burned to the ground, will be some time recovering, for community members and so many affected individuals,” the premier said. “What is also evident, even if we get to a couple hundred homes, is the heroic efforts of firefighting crews.”
Eby made his comments during a news conference at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna, the reception centre for those evacuated due to the McDougall Creek wildfire.
The premier was joined by Emergency Minister Bowin Ma, Forests Minister Bruce Ralston, and Federal Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan.
Reporters asked Eby several times what the province was doing to clear the backlog of evacuees waiting for accommodation and support.
“I want to reassure people that I find it unacceptable that any person has to wait to get into a hotel, to get the support they need. I’ve directed staff to make sure that we are getting support to people wherever they are affected by evacuation orders.”
Pressed further on the topic, Eby said the province has taken action, including the addition of more staff to reach out to evacuees who are still waiting for support.
“We’ve added support in the form of Service BC employees calling everybody who’s registered. We’ve waived requirements for administration to get people into hotel rooms. It is absolutely unacceptable that people would have to wait and I’ve made that very clear to staff.”
Eby noted that approximately 30,000 people were put on evacuation notice in a 24-hour period.
“It’s a massive impact, and still it’s not acceptable that people wait.”
Minister Ma also announced that B.C.’s order restricting non-essential travel in the Okanagan has been partially lifted.
“The emergency order we put in place on Saturday has had the effect we required and thousands of hotel rooms were made available for people forced from their homes, as well as the many firefighters and emergency crews who are protecting us during the worst wildfire season in our history,” she said.
“Because of this, we are lifting travel restrictions for the purpose of staying in temporary accommodation for most of the southern Interior, with the exception of West Kelowna. The order will be lifted for Kelowna, Kamloops, Oliver, Osoyoos, Penticton, and Vernon starting tomorrow.
Non-essential travel to West Kelowna continues to be prohibited for the purpose of staying in temporary accommodation, including hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, hostels, RV parks, and campgrounds, to ensure accommodation is available for those who may need it.
The McDougall Lake fire in West Kelowna is part of the Grouse Complex, which also includes the Walroy Lake wildfire in Kelowna and the Clarke Creek wildfire in Lake Country.