B.C. con­sid­ers closing wide swath of back­coun­try

More than 145 fires burn­ing, with the ma­jor­ity of new starts at­trib­uted to light­ning

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

A mix of dry con­di­tions and fore­cast light­ning has of­fi­cials in Bri­tish Columbia con­sid­er­ing closing ac­cess to a vast sec­tion of its back­coun­try to mit­i­gate the wild­fire risk.

Re­stric­tions on ac­cess to all Crown land in the Cari­boo fire cen­tre were to go into ef­fect at noon on Fri­day as the prov­ince bat­tles what Premier John Hor­gan has said is the worst fire sea­son since the 1950s.

There were 148 fires burn­ing in the prov­ince on Thurs­day with the ma­jor­ity of new starts in re­cent days at­trib­uted to light­ning.

B.C. Forests Min­is­ter Doug Don­ald­son said the in­creased threat of nat­u­rally caused fires means it’s more im­por­tant than ever to pre­vent human-caused fires.

“We have very, very dry con­di­tions all around the prov­ince, so any ad­di­tional fires start­ing have im­pli­ca­tions about the re­sources avail­able to fight them,” he said.

About 3,700 per­son­nel in­clud­ing fire­fight­ers, crew from other prov­inces and over­seas and forestry con­trac­tors are work­ing un­der the BC Wild­fire Ser­vice in re­sponse to the cri­sis.

Kevin Skrep­nek with the wild­fire ser­vice said a low pres­sure sys­tem rolling in Fri­day will bring cooler con­di­tions and thun­der­show­ers, but it’s un­clear whether the com­bi­na­tion of rain and light­ning will help or hin­der fire fight­ing ef­forts.

Wors­en­ing fire con­di­tions in the Anahim Lake area, in the Cen­tral Coast Re­gional District, prompted an evac­u­a­tion or­der Thurs­day, af­fect­ing a num­ber of small com­mu­ni­ties in­clud­ing the Ulkatcho First Na­tion.

The First Na­tion’s web­site says roughly 700 peo­ple live on the re­serve in the area with an­other 200 mem­bers off-re­serve. Res­i­dents are be­ing di­rected to re­cep­tion cen­tres in Prince Ge­orge.

The fi­nal de­ci­sion on the back­coun­try re­stric­tion will de­pend on wind con­di­tions. Don­ald­son added ex­emp­tions to some sites in the re­gion that have a lower risk for fires is pos­si­ble.

A re­stric­tion or­der would mean peo­ple can­not re­main in or en­ter the area with­out the prior writ­ten au­tho­riza­tion. Ex­cep­tions in­clude peo­ple who are trav­el­ling to or from their prin­ci­ple res­i­dence, a per­son act­ing in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity or those who sup­port ef­forts to fight wild­fires.

The Cari­boo fire cen­tre in the prov­ince’s In­te­rior stretches from Loon Lake near Clin­ton in the south to the Cot­ton­wood River near Ques­nel in the north, and from Tweedsmuir Pro­vin­cial Park in the west to Wells Gray Pro­vin­cial Park in the east.

The area is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for hik­ers and campers.

Tourism of­fi­cials have be­gun assess­ing the im­pact of the dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires on the travel sec­tor.

Maya Lange of Des­ti­na­tion BC, the prov­ince’s tourism plan­ning and mar­ket­ing cor­po­ra­tion, said Wed­nes­day busi­nesses out­side the fire zones have com­plained of can­cel­la­tions.

Lange said firm data re­flect­ing the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions won’t be ready for an­other two to three months, but the num­ber of tourists com­ing into the prov­ince week-to-week has re­mained on track. That may mean vis­i­tors are chang­ing their travel plans within the prov­ince rather than can­celling their trips en­tirely, she said.

While the ban may be dis­ap­point­ing for some, Don­ald­son said any­one ques­tion­ing the breadth of the re­stric­tions should trust the ex­perts.

“We’ll get through this if every­body pulls their weight and that way we won’t be faced with fur­ther and ex­pand­ing fire sit­u­a­tions,” he said.

CP PHOTO

Smoke from wild­fires burn­ing in cen­tral Bri­tish Columbia hangs in the air as a man walks on a dock in Van­cou­ver.

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