BY BILL PHILLIPS
There were plenty of answers to questions Thursday night except for the one question everyone wanted answered: When can we go home?
Cariboo fire evacuees, many of them heading into their second week of refugee life, didn’t get a specific answer to that question at a townhall meeting in Prince George Thursday. It’s not that anyone was being vague, it’s that the fires that have ravaged the central interior of the province are incredibly unpredictable.
“It’s hard to say,” said Mark Hamm, deputy fire centre manager at the Cariboo Fire Centre. “It’s incredibly dry, it could take weeks … This is really an unprecedented event. To have so many fires all at once. We were just overwhelmed. It’s the same throughout the province. We were as prepared as we could have been I think.”
Hamm said the Cariboo Fire Centre was did its usual preparation for the fire season, not knowing it would be hit with a huge number of fires in one day … July 7.
Hamm said even though the fires are large and threatening communities, the Wildfire Service isn’t going to call on the general public to man the fire lines. That should be done by professional firefighters, he said, even though people are pitching in.
“We’ve got ranchers fighting fires, First Nations members are fighting fires on reserve. Industry people are responding to fires … That’s not how it’s supposed to happen, though,” Hamm said. “Where we’re not ready to go just yet, is to hire emergency firefighters.”
He said the Wildfire Service is getting help from other provinces.
“The reason we don’t want to go to the emergency firefighters, yet, is because of safety,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone hurt or killed on the fire line.”
Down the road have a fire management plan, which involves fuel management treatment, fuel breaks in the forest.
“I think you’ll see a lot more support for that kind of work after a year like this,” said Hamm.