Costs soar as B.C. fights wildfires

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Finance Minister Carole James says the worst wildfire season in British Columbia’s history is expected to put a dent in the provincial budget as firefighters battle the largest blaze on record.

“We’re tracking $389 million over the February budget estimate right now, and we’re only halfway through the season,” James said Tuesday as she released B.C.’s public accounts.

She said firefighting costs will be included in next month’s financial update before the province releases its full budget in February.

Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Service said a record-breaking 10,200 square kilometres of forest and grasslands have burned across the province since April and the number is expected to climb with more dry weather ahead.

“This is the highest area of land burned that we have ever had in the province’s history stretching back to 1912, which is the earliest we have got records on hand,” he said from Williams Lake.

Skrepnek said 134 fires were burning in B.C. on Tuesday and that calmer and cooler conditions in recent days have helped firefighting efforts.

The largest fires, including a historic blaze west of Quesnel that is more than 4,600 square kilometres in size, have not grown since Monday.

Conditions have also eased around a wildfire sparked nearly two weeks ago in southeastern B.C., prompting the Regional District of Central Kootenay to rescind evacuation orders and alerts.

Officials said residents would be allowed to return early Tuesday evening to nearly 40 properties that were evacuated on Aug. 12 as an aggressive wildfire flared 20 kilometres southwest of Salmo.

The fire closed Highway 6 leading to the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Nelway, and travellers have been advised to check the DriveBC website for the latest information on when roads will reopen.

The B.C. Wildfire Service site shows the blaze had scorched about four square kilometres of bush and was 50-per-cent contained.

Chris Duffy with Emergency Management BC said roughly 2,600 people are still displaced by evacuation orders — down from 3,800 reported Monday. Another 12,400 people remain on evacuation alert, meaning they must be ready to leave if an evacuation order is issued.

Skrepnek said thunderstorms are expected to bring gusty winds and lightning to the central Interior later this week and could hinder firefighting efforts.

The Canadian Press

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