KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Thousands of residents from Williams Lake, B.C., who hoped to be heading home soon after being displaced by wildfires nearly two weeks ago will have to be patient a while longer.
Hot, dry weather in the foreseeable future for southern parts of the province prompted officials to say Wednesday that the wildfire crisis will likely get worse through the summer.
Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said crews are still monitoring the situation around Williams Lake but because of weather conditions, the B.C. Wildfire Service is likely to recommend a delay in lifting the evacuation order.
“We’re definitely going to want to wait and see in terms of what these fires are going to do, how they’re going to react to this weather,” he said.
Skrepnek added city staff in Williams Lake were expected to fly over the fires Wednesday as they worked to decide when to lift the order, and Cariboo Regional District Chairman Al Richmond said preparations for residents to return are ongoing.
The current level of dryness in the forests is weeks ahead of where it should be and more fires are expected to start Wednesday and the days ahead, Skrepnek said.
Crews are “gearing up” as lightning and little to no precipitation creates “ideal conditions for fires to start and fires to spread quite quickly,” Skrepnek said.
There are still approximately 19,100 people displaced, and Robert Turner of Emergency Management BC said more support is coming for Kamloops and Prince George, the communities that have helped most of those residents forced out of their homes.
“The commitment and dedication of these people has seen some truly heroic efforts and I think we’re finding now with the situation going on for so long that a lot of them are getting tired,” Turner said, adding the relentless fire conditions are also taking a toll on fire crews and volunteers.
He said the province is working with local governments to ensure any additional support needed, including human resources, will be made available as people remain out of their homes.
For the first time in days, a new evacuation order was issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District late Tuesday night for residents on a handful of properties northeast of Clinton, about 350 kilometres north of Vancouver.
The 615-square kilometre wildfire has been threatening the region for nearly three weeks and already destroyed dozens of homes from Ashcroft north to Loon Lake, east of Clinton.
RCMP announced Wednesday that a wildfire that raced through a Lake Country neighbourhood in the Okanagan and destroyed eight homes was arson.
Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said police want to speak with a group of adults who were using the recreational area near where the fire started on July 15 and are also encouraging anyone with photos or video footage to contact police.
He said several residents suffered substantial financial and emotional damage and it was lucky that no one was injured or killed by the fast-moving flames.
Fires have charred about 3,790 square kilometres of timber, bush and grassland in B.C., since April 1, and crews are continuing to try to bring more than 150 wildfires under control.