Focusing on fire victims

Whatever else can be said about major disasters, they do have a way of focusing one’s priorities.

When the B.C. Interior erupted into a scene from Dante’s Inferno starting last week, even warring provincial politicians were compelled to set aside their differences to ensure firefighting efforts were maximized and thousands of evacuees were assisted.

“This is no time for politics,” NDP premier-designate John Horgan said as he met with soon-to-be-outgoing Liberal cabinet ministers in the wake of the conflagration.

While their plight was dwarfed by the multiple Interior wildfires — quite literally overnight — victims displaced by last Thursday’s major apartment fire in Parksville were also placed at the centre of attention by local emergency services.

Almost within minutes of their forced evacuation from the Ocean Terrace Apartments, the residents were welcomed into a hastily prepared reception centre at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre. Hot drinks, essential toiletries and accomodating Emergency Social Services workers were made available to try to make them comfortable and begin the laborious process of finding short-term housing for both people and pets.

Within a day, aid for the displaced fire victims began its inevitable shift to the private sector, as the local Salvation Army chapter took the lead in collecting donations and assembling a list of potential billet homes for couples, individuals or pets.

As with the provincial and federal resources being thrown into the flames of Ashcroft, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House, nobody has asked who’s going to pay for all the initial public aid, and how much is this costing taxpayers, anyway?

There will be time for finger-pointing and, in all likelihood, litigation, in the coming weeks, months and possibly years. And there are likely to be hard-luck and hardship stories from some of the fire evacuees whose long-term treatment may not be quite as tender as it was when they were offered a hot coffee and a soft shoulder in the reception centre.

But somehow, whether on the left, the right or somewhere on the spectrum known as centre, people seem to find common ground in the idea that victims of disasters must be served first.

The cynic, of course, will be happy to point out Horgan’s “This is no time for politics” comment can be taken as a political statement in its own right.

But that doesn’t make it wrong.

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News