Mona D’Amours took this shot of smoke from the Tremont Creek wildfire visible near her house at Barnes Lake, July 2021.

Mona D’Amours took this shot of smoke from the Tremont Creek wildfire visible near her house at Barnes Lake, July 2021.

Fraser-Nicola MLA sees lack of trust from public on firefighting

Jackie Tegart says people on the ground called for help during last year’s fires and didn’t get it

Part two of an interview with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart

Last year’s devastating wildfire season raised a lot of concerns in regards to how B.C. fights fires, and Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart says she has heard them.

“People on the ground are given direction from higher up, and it’s the strategies, and not taking into account local knowledge, that are major concerns. We heard from the provincial government over and over again during last year’s fires ‘We have all the manpower we needed,’ but I heard from people on the ground that they called for help and help did not come.”

She says that when changes to Freedom of Information were discussed in the legislature last fall, she asked for an amendment asking for proactive disclosure of BC Wildfire Service records so people who were affected could understand and receive the information they needed to understand what happened. It was defeated by the government.

“They wonder why people won’t evacuate, and what I’m seeing is a lack of trust that the people there to protect your property will protect it. Local ranchers can tell you about fire behaviour, and can tell you where to stop it.”

Tegart singles out the residents along the Highway 8 corridor between Spences Bridge and Merritt, noting that they are reeling after last year’s fires and then floods.

“They dealt with fire that went all the way up the Nicola Valley. I talked with a family who got their cattle out during the fire, got back in September, then had 100 cattle isolated and didn’t know how they would get out in the flooding.

“We are people used to dealing with whatever comes our way, but we’ve had more than our share.”

This has Tegart worried about people getting all the supports they need,

“My major concern for 2022 is encouraging people to reach out for mental health support. COVID has been a long journey. Most people follow the rules, so they’ve been isolated and away from family. We were all looking forward to restrictions being lifted for summer 2021 but then we didn’t get a summer; we couldn’t even sit outside because of smoke. So many people were displaced and evacuated, then we went into fall and saw unprecedented floods, with many communities cut off. People saw their properties taken away by the river.”

She says that with people talking about how to put rivers back in their natural paths, it’s an opportunity to revitalize the Nicola River and the Coldwater River watershed. “We have so many rules around water, but when you look at the impact of water and think of the health of the ecosystem in that watershed, it might be an opportunity to do significant work to rehabilitate them for salmon and steelhead, get that biodiversity we know needs to be there. That takes leadership and vision and committment from all levels of government, including partnerships with First Nations.”

Tegart says that in every disaster we’ve seen, the number one concern she has heard is lack of communication and transparency, whether it’s between different levels of government, between workers on the ground and senior people within organizations, or communications to the people most affected by what’s happening.

“It’s that lack of communication and not knowing that makes people not trust government. I’ve told government many times that if you’re not sharing information, others will fill in the gaps. Every level of government that has responsibility in disasters needs to debrief, talk about what worked and what didn’t, so we can get better at what we’re doing.”

She notes that there are a lot of people in her riding who are displaced and wondering what the future will hold.

“My hope in 2022 is that we have processes in place to do long-term planning with input from the people most affected, in order to see hope for the future.” She adds that she believes we will still be living with COVID for a while.

“We all hoped it would come to an end, but I think we have to learn to live with it so life can come back to some sort of normalcy.”

She also hopes that in 2022, divisiveness will not be so visible. “There are so many situations where it seems there are winners and losers. If COVID has taught us nothing else, it’s to be thankful and grateful for what we have, and also to question when we feel the need to do that.

“2021 was challenging for everybody. There were lots of people who stepped up, who have been absolutely stellar despite the overwhelming needs of people like health care and frontline workers. I think people are looking for something to look forward to.”

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