B.C. is burning: 10,000 people displaced in hot, dry conditions
Evacuation orders issued in many communities, $100 million relief fund set up
By Roshini Nair, CBC News, July 10, 2017
Wide swaths of forests in British Columbia’s Interior are burning after a lightning storm Friday afternoon ignited brush parched from weeks of relentless hot, dry weather.
The Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast regions of the province have been under extreme fire danger for the past two weeks and hot, dry conditions — including temperatures up to 39C — led to a highly combustible environment.
With Friday’s lightning storm, fires quickly spread rapidly, worsened by strong gusts.
Evacuation orders were issued to multiple communities and the province declared a state of emergency.
Outgoing Premier Christy Clark announced a $100 million relief fund for affected communities.
Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.’s chief wildfire information officer, said over 140 fires started on Friday and nearly 100 more on Saturday, followed by a few dozen on Sunday.
He said 220 active fires are burning across the province.
Over 10,000 evacuees
Skrepnek says firefighters are focusing their efforts on a dozen major fires near larger communities, some of which have been evacuated.
So far, an estimated 10,000 people have been displaced.
“We’re focused on protecting critical infrastructure, protecting communities and quite importantly, keeping our highway routes open. Given the movement of people and given the evacuations, we want to make sure those access routes are available so people can get out if they need to,” he said.
The major evacuations have been the entire town of 100 Mile House and the villages of Ashcroft and Cache Creek.
Thirty homes and two airport hangars were destroyed near Cache Creek, and fire also burned down several buildings and homes on the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve.
Multiple highway routes in and out of the region are partially closed due to the fires.
As a further complication, evacuees from 100 Mile House — a town of nearly 2,000 people — were advised to go to Prince George, about five hours north, instead of Kamloops, about two hours south, as the Kamloops emergency response system was at capacity.
Roger Brown, a ranger from 100 Mile House, was able to leave his ranch with his wife and horses.
Having lived in California, Brown says he’s no stranger to forest fires but said this one spread particularly quickly.
“It’s been so dry up here. Everything is basically fuel.”
Brown is unsure when he’ll be back.
“When these kind of things happen, you have to use good judgment,” he said.
“Even though some people try and stay, [orders] need to be heeded because fire is something you don’t want to play with.”
Hot, dry, and smoky
Weather conditions for the region are not expected to provide much relief over the next few days.
It is forecast to be hot and dry, with temperatures in the mid-20s and low 30s today. Temperatures are expected to climb to the high 30s by the end of the week.
There is no rain expected through Tuesday, except in the Columbia-Kootenay region where there is also a chance of lightning.
Wind gusts — a major problem on the weekend — were not expected to be strong Monday, although there was a chance gusts could come in during the afternoon.
Smoke from the fires is reducing visibility and causing poor air quality. Environment Canada has issued advisories for multiple regions across the province.
Extra personnel from across the province and country were expected to arrive in the region Monday to help contain the fires. Skrepnek says the military is assisting with transportation.