Wildfires: Should BC Do More to Help Homeowners ‘Stay and Defend’?

It’s risky, but many saved their property by not evacuating. The Tl’etinqox First Nation fought side by side with firefighters.

As wildfires ravage much of B.C., strange reports of evacuation dodgers were coming in. Of course, you don’t have to evade evacuation orders here, but that’s how the coverage sounded. People were “defying” or “ignoring” evacuation orders. One RCMP officer even threatened to remove children from a community, citing an obligation to keep them safe. Some news outlets used images of a decimated neighbourhood from an unrelated fire, implying these are asinine people who would consider flouting an evacuation order. (It’s worth noting the folks who got the worst of this suggestive treatment were from the Tl’etinqox First Nation, who have their own fire crew and also were never formally under an evacuation order.)

Catherine Lappe, regional director for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, second from left, and Chief Joe Alphonse second from right met last week at the Tl’etinqox First Nation, with the Hanceville fire behind them. Photo supplied by Chief Alphonse.

Through informal channels I was hearing reports of what these evacuation defying people were doing. They were driving cattle to safety, excavating fire guards, soaking their hay fields, and dousing small fires that popped up from underground root systems that were flaming. Roadblocks meant to protect abandoned towns from looters was hindering these people, keeping them from helping neighbours and receiving much needed supplies from out of town.

It got me thinking whether evacuation is always the best reaction? Maybe, for some prepared people, it would be better to plan to stay. Could our emergency management policy be retooled to support these people instead of clash with them?

Read the full story in The Tyee.