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Feds should support local fire response: Cullen

“We need decision making happening closer to the ground”
Last month dozens of local residents gathered in Burns Lake to protest after the B.C. Wildfire Service said a high-capacity water delivery system brought by Albertan truckers wasn’t going to work on the Southside. (Carla Lewis photo)

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says the federal government should support locally coordinated initiatives when it comes to wildfire response in remote communities.

“I don’t think Ottawa coming up with a fire plan for the Lakes District is what people want,” he told Lakes District News. “I think they should just support us financially and in other ways when local initiatives crop up.”

“That was one of the problems that I noticed… that the more rural and remote the fire, the less familiarity a lot of the people working in the offices had with it,” he continued. “And that’s normal, they might be more familiar with Kamloops than they are with Telegraph Creek.”

“Fire doesn’t care about jurisdictions and levels of government, and we need decision making happening closer to the ground. You take the Southside, for example, one of the things I love about that community is its independence, and its spirit of getting the job done together; we gotta harness that, not fight it.”

“So the question now is how do we safely harness that great pride and self-reliance that a lot of our smaller and remote communities have by nature,” he added.

This summer some residents south of Burns Lake refused to abide by evacuation orders, choosing to stay behind to help combat the fires and protect their properties and livelihoods.

READ MORE: Some residents south of Burns Lake refuse to evacuate

Cullen said there were also communication issues during this wildfire season.

“I talked to a lot of the residents, people who have lost their homes, and on top of what you say is a normal stress of a huge natural disaster, I think it’s fair to say there were communication problems with fire service officers sometimes, and challenges in responding to what people are calling this new normal of big, intense and widespread fires that are being linked to the effect of climate change.”

“Whenever we reached out to federal ministers, they were very responsive to me, but I know a lot of Indigenous communities for example that are frustrated because they seem to be getting passed around a lot. And then when you try to coordinate efforts between communities it gets more difficult.”

Cullen says additional resources are definitely part of the answer.

“If this is the new reality as the premier has said, we’re kidding ourselves with the budgets that we sat aside,” he said. “The normal way that they put money aside, everybody knows it’s not enough.”

But Cullen says prevention is often not something that politicians are interested in.

“Prevention is spending money to make sure something doesn’t happen, and politicians like to spend money on things that do.”

Cullen added that he’s been supporting a “coming together” of northern communities impacted by wildfires – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – to discuss this year’s wildfire response, beyond the expected review of the fire season.

“[It would be great] to do it in our region and do it right away, when the memory is fresh and lessons are still very present.”



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