(22 July 2009) - "My heart goes out to all those families whose lives have been disrupted by the fires. I can’t imagine what they have felt." - James Clancy.
By James Clancy
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
For the last several days Canadians have watched with great anxiety and concern as three large wildfires in the West Kelowna area of B.C.'s Okanagan Valley forced the municipality to declare a state of emergency. More than 11,000 residents were evacuated from their homes.
My heart goes out to all those families whose lives have been disrupted by the fires. I can’t imagine what they have felt as they look up in the hills and see flames racing across the land and know their houses and businesses are in danger.
Thankfully, the latest news from officials is positive. They say that firefighters have contained close to 100% of the fires and are now focusing their efforts on extinguishing them. So far the damage has been reported as minimal. The evacuation order has now been conditionally lifted and many residents have been allowed to return to their homes.
However, we all know from Kelowna's history with wildfires in 2003 that things can change very quickly and that people need to remain on high alert.
According to officials these past few days are likely only the beginning of what is to be a very serious forest-fire season for the province. They say that dry forests, a dry spring and shrinking snow packs have combined to create perilous circumstances. There are also lightning storms in the region, which could spark new fires in coming weeks.
I would like to praise the efforts of B.C. Forest Service firefighters (most are members of the BCGEU/NUPGE), emergency workers, volunteers and others who have - and continue - to risk their lives to save others and protect land, homes and businesses.
They are working in extremely dangerous conditions, facing extreme pressure and public scrutiny, and I am very proud of their extraordinary commitment and efforts.
James Clancy is the national president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE