LAKE COUNTRY, B.C. — A fast-moving wildfire in British Columbia’s Okanagan region that quickly engulfed eight homes and damaged 30 other properties is believed to be human-caused, RCMP said Friday.
More than 900 properties on the shore of Okanagan Lake in the community of Lake Country were evacuated or placed on alert July 15 after the blaze broke out along the side of a road. Officials contained the flames earlier this week and allowed the remaining residents at 58 properties to go home.
Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said RCMP resources from several jurisdictions have been pooled to conduct an in-depth investigation into the cause of the fire. A tip line has also been set up to encourage anyone with information to contact police.
“At this time we are treating this fire as suspicious and believe it to be human-caused,” Moskaluk said in a statement. ”As is the case with many investigations, it is information from the public that solves them.”
It has been two weeks since wildfires in British Columbia escalated dramatically and prompted the province to declare a state of emergency. Premier John Horgan has extended the order for another two weeks as more than 43,000 people remain out of their homes.
More than 3,600 square kilometres of land have been scorched by 716 fires since April 1. The toll to property is still being determined, but close to 90 structures have been confirmed destroyed.
About 167 fires were burning on Friday, 32 of those started a day before, primarily by lightning. Up to 15 millimetres of rain fell in parts of the province on Thursday but a more prolonged downpour is needed, said fire information officer Navi Saini.
“Unfortunately, the weather forecast continues to call for warm and dry conditions,” she said.
Saini said winds are difficult to predict but officials are expecting moderate gusts on Saturday and “significant winds” on Sunday.
Members of a federal ad hoc committee co-ordinating Ottawa’s response to the fires, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, are expected to be meeting with provincial officials this weekend.
The federal government said committee members will also be visiting affected communities to determine what help is needed in addition to current support from departments and agencies including the Canadian Armed Forces, Public Health Agency, RCMP and Canada Post.
About 225 soldiers from Edmonton arrived in Williams Lake on Thursday to help with road closures and ground evacuations, bringing the total number of military members in the area to 375. More than 3,400 firefighters and other personnel are currently battling the blazes in B.C., including 836 from out of the province.
There has been violent fire activity for weeks in the southern and central Interior, but on Thursday the situation worsened in southeast B.C., with seven new blazes bringing the total number of active fires in that region to 18.
The BC Wildfire Service said none of the blazes were immediately threatening communities or homes. The fires include a 70-hectare blaze burning in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park on the northeast side of Kootenay Lake.
Officials in some areas have begun the arduous task of readying communities for evacuees to return home.
The Cariboo Regional District said officials from the district, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and First Nations are combining their efforts to work towards a safe return for residents currently out of their homes.
The district said 100 Mile House is the community closest to having priority services in place, including emergency health care, 911 service, power, food services, waste management services and security.
It said preparations for Williams Lake are not far behind.