Wildfires in British Columbia Escalate, Forcing Evacuations of Over 35,000 Residents
British Columbia Wildfires Rage On, Thousands Evacuated
The wildfire situation in British Columbia remains grim as more than 35,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and another 30,000 are on alert.
The province declared a state of emergency on Friday, giving authorities more power to deal with the fire threat and access federal resources.
Premier Daniel Eby said the province is facing a shortage of shelter space for evacuees and firefighters and urged people to avoid non-essential travel to free up more accommodation.
He also warned residents not to fly drones near the fire zones, saying they could interfere with firefighting efforts.
The fires are concentrated around Kelowna, a city of about 150,000 people in the interior of B.C., about 300 kilometres east of Vancouver. Some sections of a key highway connecting the coast and the rest of western Canada have been partially closed due to the flames.
Kelowna Under Siege
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said the city is under “unprecedented” pressure from the wildfires, which have destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in the area.
He said the city is working closely with provincial and federal agencies to coordinate the response and support the evacuees.
“We are doing everything we can to protect our community and our residents,” he said.
Basran said the city has opened several reception centres for evacuees and is providing food, water, clothing and other essentials. He also thanked the volunteers and donors who have stepped up to help.
He urged residents to follow the evacuation orders and alerts and to stay informed through official channels.
“We are not out of the woods yet. This is a very dynamic and unpredictable situation,” he said.
Worst Fire Season On Record
British Columbia is experiencing its worst fire season ever, with more than 140,000 square kilometres of land burned so far, roughly the size of New York state.
The province has seen strong winds and dry lightning in recent days, which have fanned the flames and sparked new fires.
The weather conditions are expected to remain challenging for the next few days, as a cold air mass clashes with hot air trapped in the region.
Jerrad S, a fire information officer with B.C. Wildfire Service, said crews are working hard to contain the fires and protect critical infrastructure and communities.
He said there are more than 3,000 firefighters and support staff on the ground, as well as aircraft and equipment from other provinces and countries.
“We are still in some critically dry conditions, and are still expecting difficult days ahead,” he said.
Homes Destroyed in West Kelowna
One of the most destructive fires was the McDougall Creek wildfire in West Kelowna, which grew from 64 hectares to 6,800 hectares in 24 hours and destroyed several properties, including the Lake Okanagan Resort4. More than 2,400 properties are under an evacuation order and more than 4,800 properties are under an evacuation alert due to the blaze.
The fire also forced the evacuation of the University of B.C. Okanagan campus on Friday and closed the airspace above the city. The fire is burning out of control and is expected to spread further due to strong winds.
Other Communities at Risk
Another fire that has caused concern is the Battleship Mountain wildfire near Hudson’s Hope, a municipality southwest of Fort St. John in the Peace region. The fire has scorched 242 square kilometers and is about 12 to 13 kilometers from the town, which has been under an evacuation order since Saturday.
The mayor of Hudson’s Hope, Dave Heiberg, said the fire was very aggressive and not wanting to be tamed. He said he was trying to get as many people out of the area as possible.
Other communities that are facing fire threats include Lytton, which was largely destroyed by a fire in June; Invermere, which is close to a 50-square-kilometer fire; and Kamloops, which is under a smoky skies bulletin due to poor air quality.
Government Response and Public Support
The provincial government has allocated $100 million to support communities and residents affected by the wildfires and has requested federal assistance in the form of personnel, equipment and aircraft.
The public has also shown solidarity with the fire victims and responders by donating money, goods and services to various organizations and agencies. Some examples are the Canadian Red Cross, which has raised more than $14 million for wildfire relief; the Salvation Army, which has provided food and water to evacuees and firefighters; and Airbnb, which has activated its Open Homes program to offer free accommodation to those in need.
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