People who lost everything in the summer’s wildfires should receive assistance from the government, Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said as she fought back tears during an interview in Williams Lake Wednesday.
“This is a disaster,” Barnett told the Tribune. “I’m seeing the hopelessness. It’s so sad. Some people did not have insurance. There’s got to be help for them.”
Barnett worked every day through the wildfires, frequently going into the wildfire impacted areas to see the fires and damage.
Many businesses, including tourism operators, have been heavily impacted, Barnett said.
“When you get a 65-year-old man crying you know they aren’t going to make it. Take the tourism operators — most of their business is in July and August. I don’t know how they won’t go under.”
Barnett has met some senior citizens who lost their homes and did not have insurance because they lived too far from fire protection and the cost was prohibitive, she said.
“These are good people who worked all their lives and put everything into their homes,” she added. “Coralee Oakes, Jackie Tegart and myself are just going to keep getting up and asking that these people be helped. I’m almost pleading. I’m a taxpayer and I’m happy to help them.”
Barnett said some property owners have had to hire an environmental expert to analyze the content of burnt materials on their property at a cost of $2,000.
Another problem people are encountering is if their 30 or 40-year-old home was by a lake.
“They won’t be able to rebuild in the same spot because the rules have changed in riparian zones,” Barnett said. “They will have to put in a new septic system and well because the rules have changed. Insurance doesn’t cover that kind of stuff either.”
Referring to the $2.6 billion surplus left in the budget by the Liberals, Barnett said money is there to help people.
“I think the government should be sitting down with the federal government and analyzing what we are going to do to help these people. Not communities, I’m talking about people. There are plans to work with rebuilding infrastructure, but the people are getting lost in what I am seeing so far.”
Barnett is worried about the long-range impact of the wildfires for the Interior, she said.
“This is only the beginning of the problems. When there’s no money, problems of other social issues will arise. It’s better to deal with it right up front.”
On Wednesday, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) said the summer’s wildfires caused $127 million of insured damage to homes, vehicles and businesses.
Of that amount, $100 million of insured damage was made through 7,000 claims for fires in the Williams Lake area, Aaron Sutherland, vice-president for the Insurance Bureau of Canada Pacific Region told the Tribune.
A big portion of the claims was for assisted living expenses for individuals who were forced out of their homes due to the evacuation orders or for goods such as fridges and freezers if residents lost power for significant periods of time, Sutherland said.
“A quarter of the losses were on the commercial side,” Sutherland added. “We saw grocers experience significant food spoilage, and ranchers who have seen the loss of livestock and other products.”
Earlier this month the Cariboo Regional District confirmed 60 homes and 167 structures were destroyed by the wildfires.
The hardest hit areas were 105 Mile where 12 homes and 29 structures were lost, Spokin Lake Road and Miocene where 10 homes and 26 structures were lost, Soda Creek Road where 10 homes and 44 structures were lost, the Plateau Fire area with five homes and 26 structures lost and the Hanceville area where nine homes and 19 structures were lost.