A helicopter dumps a load of water on the Philpot Road fire outside of Kelowna, B.C., Monday, August 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward VICTORIA — A former Liberal cabinet minister and an Indigenous leader have been appointed to lead an independent review of British Columbia’s response to this year’s wildfire and flood disasters that forced thousands from their homes.
Premier John Horgan said Monday the report by George Abbott and Maureen Chapman is due in April and will include recommendations to enhance government response strategies in time for next year’s flood and wildfire season.
The review will be the first major examination of response programs since 2003 when about 2,500 fires destroyed more than 300 homes and businesses, Horgan said.
Former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon’s report released in 2004 called on the government and municipalities to fireproof forests around communities and suggested the province had a one-time opportunity to implement strict fire reduction initiatives through policies and legislation.
Evacuation orders this summer affected more than 65,000 people and firefighting costs topped $564 million. Most of the central Interior city of Williams Lake was evacuated for nearly two weeks in July when a fire threatened.
"What we want to do is make sure we are modernizing our processes so we can do better next year and the year after that and the year after that," said Horgan.
Abbott said his former home riding in the north Okanagan has been hit hard in the past by floods on the Shuswap River and fires in Salmon Arm.
"This is a hugely important issue to people and I’m very much honoured to be asked to be a co-lead as we look at the issues around this and try to understand them, try to learn from them," he said.
Chapman, a hereditary chief from the Skawahlook First Nation in the Chilliwack-Hope area, said the fires and floods damaged many Indigenous communities.
Homes were burned in the Boston Flats residential area in Ashcroft and First Nations firefighters in the Chilcotin region defied evacuation orders to fight fires approaching their communities.
"This is definitely something that has impacted everyone in B.C., particularly some of our First Nations communities," said Chapman, who is known for her advocacy work on women’s health issues.
The province declared a state of emergency because of the fires in July that lasted 10 weeks, the longest in B.C.’s history. Shortage of Christmas trees causing price increases across B.C.
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