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Province launches resiliency centres in Salmon Arm, West Kelowna

As the wildfire season winds down in the southern Interior, focus shifts to recovery for those affected and on ongoing drought conditions
While the Kamloops Fire Centre saw fires in close proximity to several cities and communities, the bulk of the area burned in B.C. and most of the fires occurred in the north.

The threat from B.C.'s worst wildfire season on record has diminished across most parts of the province, including Kamloops, but drought conditions persist throughout and strong winds still pose a risk to blazes in the north.

There are now just 1,200 people across B.C. under evacuation order due to wildfires. That is down from a high of 36,000 on order just over three weeks ago.

Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said now, with much of the province in the recovery phase, the process can often be "complex and overwhelming."

In response, the province has opened two resiliency centres in West Kelowna and Salmon Arm, providing a range of services as a "one-stop shop" model. Services include Service BC, WorkBC, Service Canada, provincial and municipal building permit advisory, insurance supports and community case workers.

Ma said the fires are having a "lasting, significant impact" on people in these communities.

As some recover, the fire season continues for some. In the north, strong winds are posing a threat to fires still burning there. On Sept. 3, a wind event in the north pushed some fires as far as 40 kilometres, according to Neal McLoughlin with the BC Wildfire Service's predictive services unit.

There remain 12 fires of note in the province and 393 active fires in total. One year ago, there were 188 fires still active, with just five of note.

The Kamloops Fire Centre, which expands north to Wells Gray Provincial Park and south to the U.S. border, saw 193,000 hectares burned this season and still has 39 active fires. The Prince George Fire Centre, which borders the Yukon and Northwest Territories to the north, saw the bulk of fire activity in B.C. this year, with 1.84 million hectares burned. More than 120 fires remain active in that area.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston called the wildfire season B.C.'s worst ever and like the drought that has plagued the province all year — not over yet.

Ralston said about 80 per cent of the province remains under drought levels four or five — the two highest levels.

Kamloops' main river basins remain at the highest drought level.

Ralston said some areas are facing "very serious impacts" from the drought, including the Sunshine Coast, which has enacted its highest level of water restrictions.

Ma said the drought is a slow, lumbering kind of natural disaster that might not immediately be apparent to those living in communities where the taps aren't dry.

"We are facing a very serious drought situation here in British Columbia. It is unlike any kind of drought conditions we've seen in the past," she said.

Ralston said the province is working with First Nations and local governments to plan for water scarcity, should the situation continue to deteriorate.

"By working together, we hope to minimize these long-term impacts as much as possible," he said.

Ma said it is possible that parts of the province come out of the drought throughout the later fall and winter months, while others may remain dry.

"What we're facing in B.C. this year, and what is likely to happen more and more into the future as a result of climate change, is province-wide prolonged drought," Ma said.

Connie Chapman of the Ministry of Forests water management branch, said reservoirs in some parts of the province have dipped below their historical normals.

She said water scarcity planning may have to happen next year if reservoir levels aren't restored, noting some reservoirs operate on multi-year cycles and their recovery will have to be carefully monitored.

The current state of emergency in B.C., related to the wildfires, will lapse at midnight on Thursday. Ma said that may be extended, depending on how conditions play out, or may be left to expire.