B.C. village declares, then rescinds, wildfire state of emergency

Harrison Hot Springs Mayor Ed Wood speaks at a council meeting on May 6. Infighting has been common during council meetings since Wood's election in 2022. (Jim Mulleder/CBC News - image credit)
Harrison Hot Springs Mayor Ed Wood speaks at a council meeting on May 6. Infighting has been common during council meetings since Wood's election in 2022. (Jim Mulleder/CBC News - image credit)

A village in British Columbia's Fraser Valley declared a local state of emergency over the threat of wildfire on Tuesday, and rescinded it the following day.

Harrison Hot Springs Mayor Ed Wood issued a notice about the measure on Tuesday, saying it was needed "due to the significant threat of an interface fire and imminent threat to the loss of life and property."

The order was rescinded on Wednesday following a request from B.C.'s Ministry of Emergency Management, according to a notice posted on the village website.

Wood had told CBC News on Wednesday that the nearest current wildfire was around 18 kilometres away.

"This declaration is made proactively to protect residents and visitors," he said. The village, which lies around 100 kilometres east of Vancouver, has about 1,500 residents and draws tens of thousands of tourists each year.

The state of local emergency had been put in place for two weeks, until June 4. Extending it would have required provincial approval under the Emergency and Disaster Management Act.

A statement from the Emergency Management Ministry on Wednesday said that officials were in direct contact with the village to determine the reasons for the emergency declaration, and "to ensure a shared understanding of the appropriate use of such declarations."

"Based on those conversations, the village agreed to cancel the order in accordance with the Emergency and Disaster Management Act," a ministry spokesperson wrote, adding that the guidelines for declaring a state of emergency are publicly available in a ministry handout.

Council in Harrison Hot Springs has been wracked by infighting and disagreement since Wood was elected in 2022, hampering its ability to function and govern the village.

The conflict came to a head earlier this spring, when Wood alleged a majority of councillors were conspiring against him to limit his role as mayor.

At the time, some residents were so exasperated they said they were considering moving out of the village, citing wildfire mitigation as one piece of business council was neglecting.

Wood addressed that concern in his emergency declaration Tuesday, saying "bureaucracy and inaction of council has hindered the village's efforts to clear the East Sector area of [wildfire] fuel," he wrote, referring to a recreation area to the east of the village.

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Coun. Michie Vidal said Wood sprung the state of emergency announcement on council at a special meeting Tuesday morning.

"I was opposed, very much opposed," she said. "There is no imminent danger to this village."

Vidal said she believes the mayor wanted to circumvent decisions and spending related to fire mitigation around council and other partners, such as the regional district.

After the state of local emergency went in place, she said, she had been inundated with messages from businesses and residents worried about what they should do and if it will drive away tourists.

"The actions that Mayor Wood took have caused a lot of confusion, concern and a level of panic with our residents and business community, especially now that our visitor and tourism season is starting," she said.

Jim Mulleder/CBC News
Jim Mulleder/CBC News

Harrison Hot Springs is located in a tree-covered valley on the southern shore of Harrison Lake and has only one main road in and out.

Wood had said there had already been seven fires in the area this year.

"With no secondary evacuation route in place and no fuel management having taken place to date, there is a need for emergency co-ordination in order to manage this risk," he said.

The notice said the village was entering into two emergency contracts: one worth $174,500 to install fire detection devices; the other with a forester to complete fuel mitigation.

Wood said no action from residents was required due to the state of local emergency.

He said the only private land where village-led mitigation work would take place would be on an undeveloped property.

"I'm sure the property owner would be thankful that this is being done by the village," he said.

The Bear Creek wildfire, currently burning over eight hectares around 20 kilometres north of Harrison Hot Springs, is listed as under control, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.