Firefighters are battling more than 200 wildfires burning across British Columbia as the province prepares for several more days of hot and dry weather, leaving thousands of residents worried about their homes.
By Sunday, an estimated 7,000 people had been evacuated as Premier Christy Clark announced $100-million in funding to the Canadian Red Cross to help displaced families.
The largest wildfire is near Ashcroft, just south of Cache Creek, where dozens of buildings and homes were destroyed or suffered heavy damage. Both communities in the B.C. Interior have been ordered to evacuate. As of Sunday, the fire in the Ashcroft region had spread to 4,400 hectares.
Sue Willis, a farmer with a hay ranch near Cache Creek, fled on Saturday with her daughters and friends. They brought with them 12 horses in four trailers, and packed three dogs, a goat and several rabbits into their truck. A dozen cows had to be left behind.
“We’re like Noah’s Ark,” Ms. Willis said, adding that her 12-year-old daughter “kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I have a goat on my lap.’”
Crews are struggling to contain the larger wildfires and, while there has been progress in some parts of the province, another 100 fires started on Saturday alone, leaving firefighters racing to control roughly 220 blazes that covered a total land base of nearly 24,000 hectares.
Several hundred people, including those who work in B.C.’s forestry industry, are also slated to join the firefighting efforts. Pilots on dozens of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft have been assigned to tackle the burning trees from the air.
“We’ve had two to three weeks of sustained hot and dry conditions across most parts of the province,” said Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.’s chief fire information officer. “Friday was really the tipping point when we had a fairly significant weather system move through – brought wind to most parts of the province.”
Many of the new wildfires originated from lightning, while some stemmed from people sparking the flames, he said.
“The weather is such a critical factor here and we are certainly not seeing any real reprieve of that situation,” Mr. Skrepnek said. “We are forecasting weather-wise more of the same – hot and dry conditions for most parts of the province.”
Ms. Willis is striving to stay positive. Some neighbours who stayed behind in the B.C. Interior informed her on Sunday that wildfires had so far spared the Willis family’s home and cows. Her husband put irrigation pipes around their house, hoping that having a protective perimeter of water would help.
“I don’t want to lose my home,” said Ms. Willis, whose family slept over the weekend with friends in southwestern B.C. “And my kids are obviously worried about that. But I just tell myself we’re all together and we’re healthy.”
Ms. Clark said the B.C. government chose to allocate the money through the Red Cross because the agency has valuable experience in delivering relief quickly, noting the Alberta government provided financing through the Red Cross in the case of the Fort McMurray fires last year.
“We are in many ways at the beginning of the worst part of the fire season,” she said during a news conference in Kamloops.
“We watch the weather, we watch the wind and we pray for rain but our prayers aren’t always answered on these things and so we need to be there to support people in the meantime.”
The Red Cross said it is welcoming donations from the public to help provide money for families needing food, clothing and other relief. B.C.’s Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry declared a provincial state of emergency on Friday night.
“We all grieve with people who are worried about their homes, worried about their pets, worried about their loved ones and their life-long possessions, people who have lost their homes,” Ms. Clark said. “It’s a tragic, alarming, frightening event for so many hundreds of people.”
NDP premier-designate John Horgan, who also visited Kamloops on Sunday, offered assurances that political turbulence won’t disrupt responses to the emergency.
“We have a transition team that’s working with the existing public service very effectively,” Mr. Horgan said. “We want to make sure that everyone understands this is not a partisan affair. This is British Columbians coming together, as we often do, to help each other in times of distress.”
The province is expecting 300 firefighters from Alberta, Ontario and other parts of Canada to help some 1,000 crew members already deployed over the weekend in efforts to douse the blazes. B.C. authorities are also co-ordinating with the federal government on figuring out the best ways for Ottawa to contribute.
Ralph Goodale, the federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said the B.C. wildfires have become a fast-changing situation.
“The government operations centre is working diligently to co-ordinate the federal response to ensure that help is provided as soon as possible, and will continue to monitor and assess the wildfire situation as it evolves,” Mr. Goodale said in a statement. “Our officials are working closely with federal and provincial partners on planning the details of this assistance, including support from Canadian Armed Forces.”
BRENT JANG AND ANDREA WOO
VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jul. 09, 2017 9:03AM EDT
Last updated Monday, Jul. 10, 2017 8:13AM EDT