Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma says British Columbia is extending a state of emergency over the ongoing wildfires that have devastated parts of the province.
Ma said the two-week extension was needed in case additional extraordinary orders under the Emergency Act are needed to respond to the fires.
“The nature and unpredictability of wildfires we are experiencing this year means that we all need to remain vigilant,” she said.
She told a briefing Thursday that the past couple of days had seen a “positive trend” in the fire fight as communities downgraded evacuation orders, allowing thousands to return home.
But she said 4,200 people in B.C. remained on evacuation order, with 65,000 on evacuation alert to be ready to leave their homes at short notice.
Ma said recent rain showed the province was “slowly moving past the worst part of this wildfire season,” which is the most severe on record.
However, she said the province was far from being in the clear.
On Thursday, the BC Wildfire Service website showed 422 active fires across the province, with 195 burning out of control and 12 listed as “fires of note” due to their high visibility or potential threat to the public.
This year’s record wildfire season has already burned 19,111 square kilometres of land in B.C., with 72 per cent of the more than 2,000 fires recorded so far being triggered by lightning.
Premier David Eby had announced the state of emergency on Aug. 18, as fires swept down on West Kelowna in the B.C. Interior, and evacuations soared across the province.
Ma said the fires would have an impact on the start of the school year on Tuesday, with two schools in areas under evacuation order and 17 under evacuation alerts.
She said alternative plans for affected students would be put in place, with some pupils possibly starting the year in a neighbouring district, or moving to online learning.
Widespread rain across much of British Columbia’s southern Interior Thursday was expected to aid firefighters pushing back against a number of major wildfires in the region.
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The Columbia Shuswap Regional District had said Wednesday that while cooler weather brought winds that may increase fire behaviour at the Bush Creek East blaze near Chase, the rain was “creating conditions for firefighters to increase their attack” on the fire now measuring 431 square kilometres.
Environment Canada weather radar showed light to medium precipitation was falling Thursday from Merritt to Salmon Arm, stretching over parts of the Fraser Canyon, Central Okanagan and Shuswap regions.
There were also showers in communities including Kelowna, Lytton and Salmon Arm, all adjacent to major wildfires that have forced evacuation orders.
The cool, wet weather has already tempered blazes such as McDougall Creek in the Central Okanagan, Ross Moore Lake south of Kamloops and the Kookipi Creek fire near Lytton.
Officials in both the Thompson-Nicola and the Fraser Valley regional districts downgraded a number of evacuation orders linked to the Kookipi Creek wildfire to alerts on Wednesday, with the BC Wildfire Service saying some parts of the fire received up to 16 millimetres of rain.
Evacuation orders were also downgraded to alerts in the Bear Creek Road area of West Kelowna in relation to the McDougall Creek fire, as well as in Turtle Valley in the Thompson-Nicola region close to the Bush Creek East blaze.
In addition, previous alerts for residents to be prepared for evacuation on short notice have been cancelled in parts of Westbank First Nation and the Boucherie Industrial Area in the Central Okanagan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.
This is a corrected story. A previous version said B.C.’s state of emergency was declared on Aug. 19. In fact, it was declared on Aug. 18.