B.C.: Justin Trudeau thanks firefighters, emergency workers

CBC News

Thursday, August 23, 2018, 12:29 PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Prince George, B.C., Thursday to meet some of the workers fighting wildfires and help residents who've been ordered from their homes.

(THE FORECAST: Odds for a soaking rain seem fairly low in the coming days)

He first met fire protection officer Tom Reinboldt, Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall and MLA John Rustad in a briefing at the Prince George Fire Centre.

Afterward, Trudeau talked to firefighters, volunteers and Indigenous leaders in the community.

Standing outside under a smoke-filled sky, the prime minister acknowledged how difficult the wildfire season has been for B.C.

The province is in the middle of one of its worst fire seasons ever, in terms of total number of hectares burnt. Only the seasons in 2017 and 1958 were worse.

Nearly 5,000 British Columbians are under evacuation order with more than 22,000 more on evacuation alert. More than 560 fires are currently burning across the province.

(SEE ALSO: Smoky skies from wildfires affecting mental health in B.C.)

Asked if Ottawa should be considering a federal response plan for forest fires across Canada, Trudeau said that sort of action is only needed "at a certain point."

"The provincial firefighting wildfire authorities — particularly here in B.C. — are extraordinarily capable, extraordinarily good at their jobs," he told reporters Thursday.

"The federal government is always there to support when necessary ... that only becomes necessary at a certain point."

The prime minister also hesitated to commit federal money to help B.C. First Nations fight fires.

Trudeau met emergency management staff and volunteers outside the Prince George Fire Centre after an official briefing on the fire situation. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"You fight fires with equipment, you fight fires with personnel," Trudeau said.

"We had some great conversations ... that set us on a better path to understand the gap," the prime minister continued.

Last year, Grand Chief Ed John of the Tl'azt'en Nation and First Nations Summit called on the federal government to create a $200-million emergency preparedness and response fund for Indigenous communities in the province.

Trudeau and the rest of the federal cabinet are in B.C. this week for a retreat in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

Earlier this week, Premier John Horgan and federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan visited the city together.

Trudeau will return to Nanaimo by 10 a.m. PT. The retreat wraps up later Thursday.


With files from The Canadian Press

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