Escalating wildfires and worsening drought across British Columbia signal challenging times ahead, with the province and nation facing the worst fire season in 100 years, says Premier David Eby.
Evacuation orders and alerts were expanded Tuesday near several wildfires in B.C.’s northern regions as communities try to keep residents safe and the BC Wildfire Service battles an increasing number of fires.
Eby, in Winnipeg for a meeting of premiers, said help is on the way for fire-threatened communities, but the coming months could see conditions not experienced in a century.
The Regional District of Bulkley Nechako ordered more properties evacuated late Monday near two out-of-control fires in the Burns Lake area of central B.C., including a 3.5-square-kilometre blaze just east of the village, not far from Highway 16.
The district says the evacuation is mainly to protect infrastructure and to close surrounding recreational trails, while the other evacuation, along the north shore of Francois Lake, south of Burns Lake, now affects about 60 properties threatened by the 20-square-kilometre Parrot Lookout wildfire.
B.C.’s emergency information website says about 150 people are out of their homes and hundreds more are on evacuation alert while the wildfire service handles nearly 330 active wildfires across the province, 47 of them sparked within the last 24 hours.
“To British Columbians who are involved and who are facing potential evacuation or are in a state of emergency, we’re bringing on those resources to support you and your communities to fight those fires,” he said.
“We expect long days ahead,” Eby said. “The federal government has noted that we expect this to be nationally the worst fire season in 100 years and we don’t expect B.C. will be an exception to that rule given where we are right now.”
Eby expressed gratitude toward firefighters from the United States and Mexico who are on the “frontlines” battling wildfires with B.C. counterparts.
He said more international firefighters are on the way to B.C. to fight fires and the province has placed orders for more equipment, particularly air support.
The province has already spent $200 million this year fighting the wildfires, Eby said.
In Yukon, crews report the wildfire just west of Whitehorse has grown significantly to nearly eight square kilometres but is no closer to homes along the south side of the Alaska Highway, although its southern flank is moving toward the Ibex Valley, where an evacuation alert remains in effect.
Heat warnings are still posted for Yukon as temperatures nudge 30 C in some places, but Environment Canada says showers and a cooling trend are on the way.
Thunderstorms are forecast for much of the B.C. Interior and large sections of the province and Yukon will have to endure hazy, smoke-filled skies at least for the next several days.
Much of B.C. is facing drought conditions, said Eby.
“Many parts of the province are in significant drought right now,” he said. “We’re seeing levels of drought in our province we usually don’t see until much later in the summer.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness is expected to provide a provincial drought update later this week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2023.