A tour of the Ashcroft Reserve on August 6 revealed the extent of the damage from the Elephant Hill wildfire. Photo by Barbara Roden.

Forests critic John Rustad sees Ashcroft Reserve fire devastation at first hand

Ashcroft Indian Band chief says he has heard nothing from the NDP government in wildfire aftermath.

Forests critic John Rustad. the MLA for Bulkley-Nechako who was formerly the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, was in Ashcroft on August 6 to tour the Ashcroft Reserve with Ashcroft Indian Band chief Greg Blain, and see at first-hand the devastation there. Rustad was in Ashcroft with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart, and The Journal was invited to accompany them on the tour.

Blain showed the path of the fire, and drove past many of the residences that were lost, then drove out to where the Band’s two maintenance sheds full of equipment and historical records had been destroyed. He also noted the unpredictability of the fire, pointing to where a pile of logs lay near the maintenance sheds. Fire had swept past the pile on both sides, but left the logs untouched.

Asked if anyone from the governing NDP party had been in touch with the Band, Blain replied “We’ve heard nothing from the NDP. Not a peep. And actually nothing from the feds [federal government]. I think someone’s supposed to come on Tuesday [Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu was due to visit the area on August 8].

“I think they should show some concern for these communities. We’re still part of B.C. I realize we’re not Vancouver or Vancouver Island, but there’s people out here they should be looking after.”

Rustad said that it was “devastating” to see the damage. “The impact on people’s lives, the impact on the community: it’s really heartbreaking to see. We have to do everything we can now for those people, to help them rebuild and help get things back to normal where we can.”

Asked about the fact that Forests Minister Doug Donaldson has not visited the area, Rustad said that what really surprised him was that “There hasn’t been a significant fire event in B.C.’s history that I know of where the Forest Minister wasn’t the lead response. I think it’s very disappointing to see that the Forest Minister seems to be taking a back seat, and is not front and centre out talking to people out in the communities, understanding what the real impact is, and working through these issues and trying to help those communities.”

Earlier, Tegart had spoken to The Journal about her frustration with the lack of direct NDP response in the area.

“My riding has been on fire since July 7. It’s the second-biggest fire in the province, and is still only 30 per cent contained after four weeks. And the most common question I’m hearing is ‘Where is the Minister of Forests?’

“My communities have been evacuated, then allowed back in, and now some are evacuated again. Staff on the ground have been exceptional, but as time goes on there is frustration, anxiety, and lots of questions.

“I’ve attended more than half-a-dozen community information meetings. People say ‘We are burning up and we haven’t seen him [Donaldson] in my riding, not once.’”

Tegart suggested that no one can get a sense of the devastation left behind by the Elephant Hill wildfire until they visit the area and see how close the region came to losing so much more than it did.

“Until you stand beside the ashes of burned homes, one after another, how can you begin to talk about the impact and how to recover? This new government has been in place since July 18. The Elephant Hill fire continues to burn out of control. We have a Minister of Forests missing in action. I would respectfully suggest the Interior of B.C. deserves better.”

Donaldson takes exception to the claim that he has not been in the area. “I’ve met with the mayor of Cache Creek, which is a major community in the constituency, twice; I’ve been in Kamloops twice and Williams Lake once, and in Prince George twice, visiting evacuees, talking to people on the ground.”