Firefighters from across Canada are flooding to B.C.’s Interior to provide some much needed relief to fire crews battling several major wildfires. The fires continue to burn aggressively as thousands of residents of Williams Lake prepare to leave at a moments notice. April Lawrence reports.
Wildfires burning through British Columbia have forced approximately 14, 365 to leave their homes as of Tuesday.
Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.’s Chief Fire Information Officer, said crews are fighting 217 wildfires in the province. Thirty-five new fires started on Monday.
“We are expecting a continuation of hot and dry conditions across the south with potentially some aggressive weather coming into the central part of the province tomorrow, potential winds, potential lighting,” Skrepnek said.
He said the firefighting efforts remain focused on public safety and keeping the highways and evacuation routes open.
The Ashcroft wildfire is now at 7,300 hectares while the Princeton wildfire is now at 2,700. The Gustafsen wildfire near 100 Mile House is estimated to be 5,000 hectares in size. There are two wildfires burning near Williams Lake that are being managed as one incident.
There is als0 an 800-hectare fire, about 52 kilometres east of Bella Coola. The fire is being called the Precipice Creek fire and there is a small evacuation order in place by the Central Coast Regional District for five homesteads in the area. There are almost 200 helicopters helping to fight the fires in the province and nearly 40 fixed-wing aircrafts. Three hundred firefighters are arriving this week to help B.C. crews, including 92 from Alberta, 37 from Saskatchewan, 147 from Ontario, 22 from New Brunswick and 12 from Parks Canada.
To date, there have been 599 wildfires. A total of 43,000 hectares have been burned and $53.5 million has been spent so far this fire season. By this time last, there were 496 fires and 93,000 hectares were burned, due to early wildfires in the Peace Country.
B.C. Wildfire Map on July 11. The flames are fires of note, the red dots are new fires and the yellow dots are active fires. Credit: B.C. Wildfire Services.
Robert Turner, assistant deputy minister of Emergency Management BC, said although 14, 365 people are estimated to have left their homes, most people who have evacuated have not registered. Turner said they are encouraging registration with the Canadian Red Cross.
The evacuation order for 100 Mile House is expected to last at least another week. Williams Lake, a community of more than 10,000 people is still under an evacuation alert. Canadian Forces Hercules and helicopters are on standby if a community or group is unable to evacuate by road. However, that emergency measure would be the last resort.
“That evacuation alert was put in place last night for the entire community and that was a very much a proactive step because of some of the weather we’re expecting tomorrow,” Skrepnek said.
Turner said Williams Lake would be advised to go north to Prince George, where there will be reception centres, cots and blankets.
“They’ve been prepared since Saturday to receive up to 8,000 evacuees and cater to those with emergency social services,” Turner said.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, deputy provincial health officer, said smoke has become an issue in the Interior and across the Lower Mainland as well.
“People who are in the greatest risk for smoke effects are also closest to the fires and that is a very challenging situation,” Henry said.
The Coastal Fire Centre is not seeing the amount of fire activity but there are resources available if resources break out, Skrepnek said.
“We certainly do keep adequate resources in other fire centres even when we are still pulling resources in to assist on situations like what we got going on,” Skrepnek said.
Premier-designate John Horgan said he is confident that everything that can be done is being done.
“This is a challenging time for British Columbians, particularly challenging time for those being affected by the fires, but I want those people to know that all British Columbia has your back,” Horgan said. “We’re going to be there while this happens, we’re going to be there after we get it under control.”