Solicitor General Mike Farnworth was blistering in his condemnation of residents who defied evacuation orders on Friday, Aug. 6, and placed the lives of themselves and firefighters at risk.
Farnworth made the comments at a press conference on Friday, Aug. 6, the day after the White Rock Lake wildfire destroyed much of Monte Lake, about 45 kilometres east of Kamloops on Highway 97.
“If an evacuation order is issued for your home, follow all instructions and leave the area immediately,” he said. “Do not hesitate to get yourself and your loved ones to safety immediately.”
Farnworth addressed “those who think they know more than the experts,” people who have defied evacuation orders.
“Let me be clear. Staying behind in an evacuated area not only risks your own life and the lives of your family, but it also risks the lives if the responders tasked with fighting the fire. No property is worth risking lives,” Farnworth said.
“Last night, firefighters with the BC Wildfire Service once again put their lives on the line to help evacuation people who chose to ignore evacuation orders. A small group of people found themselves overrun by the rapid advance of this fire. While our crews were able to get the residents to safety, these brave firefighters very nearly paid with their lives.
“This experience was very traumatic for all those involved and should have never happened. By any measure, this is unacceptable.”
Farnworth said the BC Wildfire Service is composed of thousands of people who are experts in their field and a command structure that includes people who have spent their entire lives in the firefighting business.
“They don’t put in place alerts and orders without a great deal of thought, so when they do, it’s to protect people’s lives,” Farnworth said.
That’s what it’s about. So instead of trying to second-guess people who have spent their entire lives protecting people, people need to follow those orders.”
Farnworth also called on people to stop inhibiting firefighting efforts by using boats to get closer to view fires and using drones to film the blazes.
Farnworth said the White Rock Lake fire behaviour is “beyond all our expert’s projections,” noting crews may need to be moved out of harm’s way.
As for those who continue to ignore evacuation orders, Farnworth said they could face fires of up to $10,000, though he noted that penalty has not yet been handed out thus far.
“They may think they know what they are doing,” he said. “The fact is, they don’t.”