The federal government is promising more funding to support residents affected by raging wildfires in British Columbia as some of the thousands of people displaced prepare to return home.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government will supply $600 per household evacuated due to wildfires and $300 for their eventual return — funds that will be managed and distributed by the Canadian Red Cross.
That money is on top of the $600 per evacuated family the provincial government has committed to providing every 14 days the family is out of its home.
“It will be a long haul and the government of Canada fully intends to stand with the people of British Columbia every step of the way to participate in supporting the effort of getting things recovered and back to a normal life,” Goodale told a news conference in Kamloops on Saturday.
The total amount the government will be supplying is unclear because Goodale said the number of evacuees is still fluctuating and the wildfire season in the province is only beginning.
The provincial government has already provided $100 million to the Red Cross in response to the crisis.
Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said approximately $10 million of that fund has been spent on the 44,000 people currently displaced and more money will follow as needed.
Goodale said not all the funding to the Red Cross will be directly given to households, but will support other initiatives to get communities functioning again.
He said following the fire in Fort McMurray last year, the Red Cross distributed money to other social services in the community, such as the Salvation Army and United Way, and also supported small businesses so people could get back to work.
Federal officials involved in the response to the fires, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, were in B.C. this weekend to assess the crisis and offer more support.
Sajjan said 250 members of the Canadian Armed Forces that were announced earlier this week to be supporting RCMP are now on the ground. He said more military personnel and aircraft are on standby.
In addition to the funding for the Red Cross, officials said the Canada Revenue Agency is implementing emergency tax relief measures to help take pressure off people concerned about their families, homes and communities.
These announcements come as some of the displaced residents began to head home.
Evacuation orders were lifted for several hundred properties around Princeton in the south Okanagan, a rural area in the Cariboo region north of Williams Lake and the community of 100 Mile House.
Officials said residents returning to the 100 Mile House area will find it has been “profoundly affected” by wildfire and services such as grocery stores and health care may be limited for some time.
It is estimated up to 8,000 evacuees are from the 100 Mile House area where the order was downgraded, a spokeswoman for Cariboo Regional District said Saturday. Approximately 2,000 of those live within the District of 100 Mile House boundaries, with the remainder residing in the surrounding rural areas.
It’s not known how many will return as officials warn that air quality remains poor and an evacuation alert will stay in effect for the region.
As of Saturday. there were 161 active wildfires in the province, 14 of which started on Friday.
Fire information officer Navi Saini said windy conditions in the forecast for southern parts of the province Sunday could worsen the situation, particularly three major fires in the Cariboo region that crews have not been able to contain.
“The winds are something we will continue to monitor. It is something that can definitely increase fire behaviour,” Saini said.
Some areas received rain earlier in the week, but Saini said it wasn’t enough to douse the larger, highly active fires in the Cariboo region that have grown to tens of thousands of hectares in size.
Cariboo Regional District Chairman Al Richmond said officials are continuing to prepare for evacuees from Williams Lake to return home with plans to get emergency medical facilities running and to stock up grocery stores, but no date has yet been set for when the re-entry will happen.
There are 3,801 firefighters and personnel responding to the crisis across the province. As of Saturday, the BC Wildfire Service has spent $122 million to date this season on fire suppression.