Forest fires in the province of British Columbia in western Canada has displaced 45,000 people since July 7. To-date, the Government of British Columbia reports there have been 771 fires burning 377,000 hectares, leading the provincial government to declare a state of emergency. There are now an estimated 19,192 individuals under evacuation orders and a further 27,451 on evacuation alert. Most of the displaced persons are hosted with friends and family while many are housed in congregate shelters with information being provided through reception centres. The authorities in the province are leading the response with firefighters, emergency response personnel and equipment. The authorities have activated local emergency response plans and are coordinating the evacuation and return home of affected persons.
The weather outlook for the next few weeks predicts a continuation of dry and hot weather. One of the main hazards is the shifting of the winds which continues to affect new communities with fire danger and smoke causing new evacuations.
The forest fires are happening during a period of dry weather conditions at the beginning of the forest fire season. The last major forest fire of this size in the province was in 2003, which affected 50,000 persons.
The Canadian Red Cross is supporting provincial and local authorities in relief efforts. Red Cross personnel from across Canada, as well as personnel from the American Red Cross, have been deployed to the province to support coordination and field operations.
Red Cross is providing registration for evacuees across the province online, by phone, through the Red Cross Call Centre, and in person at reception centres. Nearly 45,000 individuals have registered with Red Cross across the province to-date. Cots, blankets, pillows and comfort kits have been deployed to support emergency lodging centres. Red Cross has also deployed safety and wellbeing personnel to provide mental health support, resources, and referrals for fire-affected individuals.
As evacuation orders lift, Red Cross is supporting the return of evacuees at re-entry centres by providing clean-up kits, fire recovery guides, and financial assistance.
Red Cross is distributing Electronic Funds Transfers (cash transfer) of $600 to wildfire-impacted households through funding from the Province of British Columbia. Evacuees who have been out of their homes for more than 14 days are eligible for an additional $600 of assistance. Those returning home following evacuation will receive an additional transfer of $300 as well. For those unable to receive funds electronically, the Red Cross is providing them with cash cards in-person. Approximately 30,000 individuals have received this financial support to-date.
“The challenge of this response is the staggered – yet parallel – timelines we must work with,” said Jean-Pierre Taschereau, Director, Emergency Operations, Canadian Red Cross, and Head of Operations. “The wildfires ignite and threaten communities at different times, forcing the deployment of our teams to respond to evacuees’ needs during evacuation, re-entry and recovery all at once. This increases the complexity of the operation, making it very dynamic and unpredictable. Within 24 hours, the situation may change completely – for the better, or sometimes the worse.”
Information provided by Canadian Red Cross