Fires con­tinue to rav­age B.C. In­te­rior

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - NATIONAL NEWS - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

KAM­LOOPS, B.C. — Bri­tish Columbia is mak­ing $100 mil­lion avail­able to com­mu­ni­ties and res­i­dents af­fected by wild­fires to help them re­build.

Out­go­ing Premier Christy Clark an­nounced the fund today dur­ing a visit to Kam­loops, where she met with emer­gency of­fi­cials and fam­i­lies im­pacted by scores of out-of-con­trol fires.

Clark says $600 will be made im­me­di­ately avail­able by elec­tronic trans­fer through the Red Cross to peo­ple who have reg­is­tered af­ter be­ing forced from their homes.

She says the tran­si­tion team for premier-des­ig­nate John Hor­gan’s in­com­ing gov­ern­ment has been briefed on the es­tab­lish­ment of the fund.

Hor­gan was to meet with evac­uees in Kam­loops and visit emer­gency op­er­a­tions cen­tres that are deal­ing with what his team called the “wors­en­ing wild­fire cri­sis.”

Ground and air crews were bat­tling 230 wild­fires across B.C. amid con­tin­u­ing hot, dry and of­ten windy con­di­tions that made it a dif­fi­cult strug­gle.

The hard­est-hit re­gions are the cen­tral and south­ern In­te­rior.

There are also a num­ber of ma­jor blazes burn­ing in north­ern B.C. but they weren’t pos­ing as im­me­di­ate a threat as the fires fur­ther south, said Kevin Skrep­nek, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the BC Wild­fire Ser­vice.

A provincewide state of emer­gency was de­clared Fri­day af­ter about 140 new fires ig­nited and crews grap­pled with in­tense winds. The gov­ern­ment said it would al­low it to more eas­ily co-or­di­nate a re­sponse to the cri­sis.

Clark­said­peo­pleare­wor­ried about their homes, pets and life­long pos­ses­sions.

“We are just, in many ways, at the be­gin­ning of the worst part of the fire sea­son and we watch the weather, we watch the wind, and we pray for rain,” she told re­porters in Kam­loops.

“But our prayers aren’t al­ways an­swered in these things and so we need to be there to sup­port peo­ple in the mean­time be­cause there are hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple who are scared to death right now.”

On Satur­day, the winds eased slightly, but 98 new fires sprang up and ex­ist­ing fires grew in size, Skrep­nek said.

The three big­gest fires ranged in size from about 14 to 20 square kilo­me­tres and drove thou­sands of peo­ple from their homes in the com­mu­ni­ties of Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 100 Mile House, 105 Mile House, 108 Mile House, 150 Mile House and the Alexis Creek area.

Pre­cise evac­uee num- bers for the en­tire prov­ince were not im­me­di­ately avail­able Sun­day, but the Cari­boo Re­gional Dis­trict es­ti­mated that as many as 6,000 peo­ple were forced from their res­i­dences. New evac­u­a­tion or­ders af­fect­ing dozens of homes were is­sued on Sun­day.

The prov­ince has been mar­shalling all the per­son­nel it can to bat­tle the flames, pro­tect prop­erty and try to keep peo­ple safe.

More than 1,000 fire­fight­ers are on scene, sup­ported by heavy equip­ment and he­li­copters. An­other 600 per­son­nel are back­ing them up, plus some 200 con­trac­tors. An ad­di­tional 300 fire­fight­ers are be­ing re­cruited from other parts of Canada and are ex­pected to ar­rive in B.C. on Mon­day and Tuesday, Skrep­nek said.

Clark said crews have done ex­em­plary work, con­duct­ing them­selves in the pro­fes­sional man­ner we’ve come to ex­pect from them.

“As well, com­mu­ni­ties and res­i­dents have also stepped up and ral­lied to­gether to help all those who need it,” she said.

De­spite the crews’ ef­forts, Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta said a fire burn­ing be­tween Ashcroft and Cache Creek had de­stroyed dozens of build­ings, in­clud­ing at least five houses, 30 trailer park homes and two hangars at a re­gional air­port.

“We have tremen­dous sym­pa­thy for the chal­lenges we are all col­lec­tively fac­ing,” Ranta said.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered in a con­fer­ence room at Thomp­son Rivers Uni­ver­sity on Satur­day evening where an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion was held for wild­fire evac­uees.

Rob Sch­weizer, man­ager of the Kam­loops Fire Cen­tre, said it had been an un­prece­dented 24 hours.

“We prob­a­bly haven’t seen this sort of ac­tiv­ity that in­volves so many res­i­dences and peo­ple in the his­tory of the prov­ince of B.C.,” he said.

“I can only imag­ine what the last 24 hours have been like for the peo­ple here in this room. Our hearts go out to you. It’s a very stress­ful and try­ing time.”

Deputy man­ager Cliff Chap­man sug­gested Satur­day was a day he’d never for­get.

“I’ve been in this busi­ness for 17 years, from crew all the way up to where I am now, and I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced a day like we ex­pe­ri­enced yes­ter­day.”

Smoke from wild­fires blan­kets the area as mo­torists travel on the Yel­low­head High­way in Lit­tle Fort, B.C., on Satur­day.On Sun­day, the B.C. gov­ern­ment an­nounced that $100 mil­lion would be avail­able to com­mu­ni­ties and res­i­dents af­fected by wild­fires.

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