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Support set to arrive in B.C. as officials report 'extremely volatile' wildfire conditions

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2021-07-21 CBC/Radio-Canada
a steam train on a track with smoke coming out of it: A wildfire burns on a hill near Osoyoos, B.C., on Wednesday. More personnel and equipment are en route to help fight the province's many wildfires. © Maggie MacPherson/CBC A wildfire burns on a hill near Osoyoos, B.C., on Wednesday. More personnel and equipment are en route to help fight the province's many wildfires.

More resources are making their way to British Columbia to help with wildfire-fighting efforts, as wind and heat look likely to cause more extreme fire behaviour in coming days.

More than 3,100 people are currently involved in firefighting efforts, including firefighters from Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick. Another 500 are expected to arrive this weekend, including 100 firefighters from Mexico.

The federal government is also sending up to 350 military personnel to join the firefighting efforts.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says he welcomes the help from the military because B.C.'s available resources are fully assigned.

"Air support from Canadian Forces has already proved invaluable in moving crews and equipment throughout the province and aiding in precautionary evacuations,'' he said in a news release.

It is unclear when the Armed Forces crews will arrive, but the province says they will be assigned to hold existing fire lines, suppress hot spots and build new fire lines on the highest priority blazes.

The province says there are 178 helicopters and planes supporting ground crews throughout the province right now.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 299 fires are burning in the province, including the Sparks Lake fire, the largest at 470 square kilometres.

On Tuesday, the B.C. Wildfire Service said more than 3,000 square kilometres of land had been burned so far this year. There have been 1,162 wildfires to date. 

Evacuations

A provincial state of emergency, which comes into effect in B.C. on Wednesday, aims to help the province prepare for potential mass evacuations and secure accommodation for evacuees.

Thousands of people have already been ordered to evacuate their homes, and over 16,000 properties remain on evacuation alert. 

On Wednesday afternoon, residents of 356 properties in the central Kootenay communities of Edgewood and Needles were told to pack up and leave because of the growing Michaud Creek wildfire, which was last estimated at 26.7 square kilometres.

Earlier in the day, about 168 properties in the Kootenay communities of Apple Grove and Fauquier were ordered to evacuate due to the 32-square-kilometre Octopus Creek wildfire. 

a plane flying in the air with smoke coming out of it: An aircraft flies through smoke on Monday as it works to tame the Nk'Mip fire, which has forced evacuations in B.C.'s southern Okanagan Valley. © Submitted by Mike Fitzpatrick An aircraft flies through smoke on Monday as it works to tame the Nk'Mip fire, which has forced evacuations in B.C.'s southern Okanagan Valley.

Video: B.C. wildfire: State of emergency now in effect as thousands evacuate (Global News)

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Most residents of Sicamous were put under an evacuation order or told to prepare to leave on Tuesday after a highway crash sparked a wildfire at Two Mile Road. That fire now covers an estimated 1.3 square kilometres, and remains out of control, but the winds were relatively calm on Wednesday, and pushed the fire away from the town. 

The Nk'Mip Creek fire continues to burn on Osoyoos Indian Band land between the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos, about 40 kilometres south of Penticton. However, on Wednesday the band partially rescinded a previous evacuation order, allowing residents of nearly 200 properties to return home, though they remain on evacuation alert.

That fire is suspected to be human-caused.

Meanwhile, the Young Lake fire, located to the southeast of 70 Mile House, led to the evacuation of another 103 properties in the Bonaparte Plateau area of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District on Wednesday evening.

'Extremely dry and extremely volatile'

Weather conditions are predicted to lead to more extreme fire behaviour through the week and into the weekend, as the forecast shows hot, dry and windy days ahead. 

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the B.C. Wildfire Service, said crews are working tirelessly to suppress the fires but warned it's likely to get worse.

Strong winds are predicted to come up from the United States, fanning flames in the B.C. Interior over the next 48 hours. A wind advisory has been issued for the southern Interior and southeastern corner of the province.

No moisture is expected, and the southeast could see another batch of lightning that will ignite more blazes, he said.

It means firefighting efforts and control lines will be challenged.

"We have the potential to see significant fire behaviour across the province, in particular in the southern half of the province where the conditions remain extremely dry and extremely volatile," he said.

A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect for parts of northern B.C. and the Cariboo region.

Lightning is the suspected cause of nearly half of the fires sparked in B.C. this year. 

Chapman said it's too early to make a direct comparison, but the conditions resemble those in 2017 and 2018, British Columbia's worst wildfire seasons on record.

Fires impacting summer tourism

During a press conference Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan said the wildfires have ignited just as British Columbia's tourism industry was hoping to begin its recovery from the pandemic, but he promised the province will work with industry and labour groups to support them.

He encouraged anyone with trips planned near the fire zones to check with local resources, including their accommodation providers, to ensure it's safe to travel before leaving.

A wildfire believed to have been caused by a highway crash burns out of control near Sicamous, B.C., on Tuesday. © Shuswap Emergency Program/Twitter A wildfire believed to have been caused by a highway crash burns out of control near Sicamous, B.C., on Tuesday.

Hundreds more have joined the thousands already forced from their homes by wildfires as several local governments ordered residents to get out Tuesday night ahead of nearby blazes.

"For those living through yet another horrific fire season, this is a graphic reminder of how climate change is with us, not just intermittently, but all the time,'' Horgan said.

"We all have to hang together as British Columbians and follow the lead of emergency personnel.''

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register online with Emergency Support Services, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

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