WILD­FIRES GROW:

Up to 37,000 res­i­dents have been forced from their homes as more than 160 fires burn in B.C.

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS KAM­LOOPS, B.C. —

Fast-mov­ing wild­fires in Bri­tish Columbia are pos­ing se­ri­ous chal­lenges for crews fight­ing to keep the flames from more than a dozen com­mu­ni­ties, of­fi­cials said Sun­day.

As many as 37,000 res­i­dents have been forced to leave their homes and are flood­ing into crowded evac­u­a­tion cen­tres amid a provin­cial state of emer­gency that Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Todd Stone said could last “many weeks.”

More evac­u­a­tion or­ders were is­sued Satur­day night as winds picked up in the In­te­rior, jump­ing high­ways and threat­en­ing to cut off es­cape routes.

Thou­sands of res­i­dents who were told to leave the cen­tral In­te­rior city of Wil­liams Lake headed south to Kam­loops, which has al­ready be­come a tem­po­rary home for thou­sands dis­placed by wild­fires this year.

Stone said re­sources in Kam­loops are “ap­proach­ing the point of be­ing a bit stretched,” but no evac­uee will be turned away.

“Of­fi­cials in Kam­loops are scram­bling to pull to­gether any and all re­sources we can to meet the needs of all evac­uees who show up here,” he said.

“We are go­ing to get through this. We are re­silient.”

Bri­tish Columbia last de­clared a state of emer­gency be­cause of wild­fires in 2003, when more than 50,000 peo­ple were forced to leave from Kelowna and the sur­round­ing area.

Robert Turner with Emer­gency Man­age­ment BC said this year’s fire sea­son is unique be­cause there are so many fires spread across the prov­ince and it’s still early in the sea­son.

“The dif­fer­ence this time is the ge­o­graphic scope and that we’re see­ing mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties through­out (the prov­ince), and that it’s ear­lier in the fire sea­son so the pos­si­ble du­ra­tion of this is dif­fer­ent,” he said.

Kevin Skrep­nek, B.C.’s chief fire in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, said there were more than 160 wild­fires burn­ing on Sun­day, in­clud­ing 15 that pose a very real threat to nearby com­mu­ni­ties.

“We were see­ing vi­o­lent be­hav­iour out there on many in­ci­dents. In some cases we did have to with­draw our own per­son­nel from the fire line to en­sure their safety,” he said.

Hot, windy weather has also caused a fire that started burn­ing near Ashcroft to bal­loon and fire of­fi­cials es­ti­mate it has now burned through 423 square kilo­me­tres.

Forests Min­is­ter John Rus­tad said on Sun­day that 2,900 peo­ple are bat­tling blazes across B.C., in­clud­ing 415 from out of prov­ince and 203 air­craft.

An EC130 he­li­copter fight­ing a fire west of Wil­liams Lake crashed on Satur­day, in­jur­ing the pi­lot. Rus­tad said the pi­lot, the only per­son on board at the time of the crash, was in sta­ble con­di­tion on Sun­day.

Wil­liams Lake Coun. Ja­son Ryll said his truck was al­ready packed and ready to go when the alert was is­sued late Satur­day.

He said the drive out of town was sur­real.

“The lineup of traf­fic, of peo­ple, leav­ing the city was in­cred­i­bly long. It was a long rib­bon of red tail lights, all headed in the same di­rec­tion,” he said.

“It was al­most dream­like. A scene of a movie, al­most, to be leav­ing in such num­bers from your home­town.”

Ryll made it to Kam­loops and stayed the night, then headed north on Sun­day to meet with the rest of his fam­ily mem­bers who left for Prince Ge­orge be­fore the evac­u­a­tion or­der was is­sued.

The roads were much less busy af­ter the evac­u­a­tion or­der, and the streets are still blan­keted in smoke and ash, he said.

WEST KELOWNA FIRE, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Evac­uees are flood­ing into crowded evac­u­a­tion cen­tres due to B.C. wild­fires.

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