South Cariboo Search and Rescue head to the scene of an avalanche at Eureka Peak. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)

Calls to search and rescue groups surge in B.C. as COVID-19 pushes people outdoors

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s public safety minister is urging backcountry enthusiasts to take safety precautions before heading out after a record number of calls to ground search and rescue groups.

Mike Farnworth says volunteer personnel jump into action in dangerous circumstances and inclement weather to help those in trouble, adding their job has become harder over the past year as more people are exploring the outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Public Safety Ministry and Emergency Management BC say in a joint release that the search and rescue groups have been deployed 1,959 times since last April and 10 people have died in avalanches.

They say search and rescue crews attended an average of about 1,500 callouts in previous years, more than the rest of Canada combined.

BC Search and Rescue Association president Chris Kelly says 79 groups that respond to calls have been pushed to the limit during the pandemic.

He says COVID-19 has made risky work even more dangerous and everyone venturing into the backcountry should do their part to plan ahead.

“Make sure you’re prepared for where you’re going. Have a plan, have the right gear, know how to use it and take the training,” he said.

Jennifer Rice, the parliamentary secretary for Emergency Preparedness, says even those taking what they think is a short trip should let someone know where they’re going and learn about the terrain and weather beforehand. She also suggests bringing supplies for an unexpected overnight stay.

The province is advising anyone who needs help to call for it immediately and to learn from the resources available on the Avalanche Canada website.

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