Weather to bring more wildfires, evacuations in British Columbia
There is no end in sight to the wildfires in British Columbia that have forced thousands of people from their homes and ravaged hundreds of square kilometres of land.
Provincial officials say that more gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are in the weather forecast, meaning the number of people told to leave is likely to rise from the latest estimate of 7,000.
“The situation around evacuation alerts and orders could be quite fluid,” said Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, on Sunday.
“I would anticipate there would be expansions over the next few days.”
Hundreds of fires covering an area of more than 236 square kilometres has destroyed homes. B.C. announced a $100-million fund to help communities and residents rebuild, while the federal government is sending aircraft.
Christy Clark, the outgoing premier, announced the fund Sunday in Kamloops. She said $600 will be made immediately available by electronic transfer through the Red Cross to people who have registered after being forced from their homes.
“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 said.
“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.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan accepted a request from B.C. for federal assistance.
“I am heartened by the resilience, co-operation and courage demonstrated by the communities and emergency personnel facing this quickly evolving situation,” he said in a statement.
Three Canadian Armed Forces Griffon helicopters were expected to arrive in Kelowna on Sunday and some larger fixed-wing aircraft are to arrive over the next few days, said Chris Duffy, executive director of Emergency Management BC.
Duffy said the aircraft would be on standby and ready to help wherever they were needed, but that they would not be assisting with fire suppression at this time.
Ground and aircrews battled 220 wildfires across B.C. on Sunday.
The hardest-hit regions were the central and southern Interior. There were also major blazes burning in northern B.C., but they weren’t posing as immediate a threat, said Skrepnek.
A provincewide state of emergency was declared Friday after about 140 new fires ignited and crews grappled with intense winds. The government said the state of emergency allows it to more easily co-ordinate a response to the crisis.
On Saturday, 98 new fires sprang up and existing fires grew in size, Skrepnek said.
B.C. has seen 552 fires to date in 2017, about half of which broke out over the past few days. Skrepnek said the province had spent $46 million fighting wildfires this year as of end-of-day Friday.
Remmi Billy, of Hat Creek, rests on her dad Kris Billy’s shoulder as they wait to register at an evacuation centre in Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday.