British Columbia Premier John Horgan photographs the Philpott Road fire east of Kelowna, B.C., as he toured the area via helicopter Monday.—Image credit: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Premier hails ‘extraordinary’ effort by fire crews

John Horgan flew over Philpott Road fire after touring fire-ravaged areas in Central B.C.

B.C. Premier John Horgan is paying tribute to firefighters, emergency personnel and everyday British Columbians for the way they have responded to the wildfires that have burned large swaths of B.C. this summer.

After touring areas in Central B.C., Horgan flew over the Philpott Road fire east of Kelowna Monday and said he is impressed by both by the effort of the firefighters and of ordinary British Columbians who have gone out of their way to help others.

“My first message is to all who have stepped up to help is thank you,” said Horgan.

Horgan said he felt proud as he watched from the air the “extraordinary” effort of fire crews fighting the Philpott Road wildfire. He said he decided to come here and see for himself after seeing the images of huge clouds of smoke from the blaze on the Internet.

At last report the Philpott Road fire was 460 hectares in size and 20 per cent contained. While many of the 1,100 area residents who were evacuated Friday have been allowed to return to their homes, there are still 360 who are under an evacuation order.

According to Drive B.C., Highway 33 is once again closed as of 12:20 p.m. on Thursday.

Horgan added he was moved by a meeting he had with two women from the Ashcroft First Nation who lost their homes in the fire there and then by walking through the mobile home park in Boston Flats where virtually everything was wiped out by the flames.

“Walking through the skeletal remains of mobile homes and then coming across just two that are still standing was almost eerie,” he said.

Later Horgan visited evacuation centres and he said he noted the number of people from other parts of the world who were there to help.

“They come here because when this type of thing happens elsewhere, British Columbians are the first to go there to help,” he said.

The cost of fighting wildfires in B.C. this summer is now running close to $500 million and that will have an impact on the upcoming provincial budget, with the annual wildfire season a long way from over.

But Horgan said in discussing the matter with Finance Minister Carole James, he was told the province will be able to financially weather the firestorm. The province expects it will receive federal money to help offset some of the the costs of fighting the wildfires this summer.

But, the premier added, fire suppression is just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the total cost of the wildfires. Damage done and losses will runs into the many millions of dollars. This year has been the worst fire season on record in B.C.

Horgan also did not mince words when it came to his view of smokers who throw cigarette butts out the windows of their moving vehicles.

Calling people who do that “dumb boneheads,” he said there will be a crackdown on such dangerous behaviour and anyone found caught doing it will be prosecuted and, if found guilty, heavily fined.

“We don’t need any more boneheads,” said Horgan.

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