Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS A firefighter uses a torch to set fire to brush during a prescribed burn to help prevent the Finlay Creek wildfire from spreading near Peachland, B.C., on Thursday.

Large centre for B.C. fire evacuees set to close

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Social services officials in British Columbia’s southern Interior hope at least one large centre for wildfire evacuees can be closed this weekend, despite warnings that the wildfire season in the province isn’t over.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District plans to begin winding down services that include emergency accommodation at a sports arena in Kamloops, although spokeswoman Debbie Sell says those plans would change if wildfires flare.

Sell says some evacuees remain in Kamloops and still need assistance, but most of the hundreds of families chased off their properties by fire in July and August are now home.

The blaze that broke out in early July near Ashcroft, southwest of Kamloops, was responsible for many of those evacuations and has now burned nearly 2,000 square kilometres.

The wildfire service says the blaze is just 50 per cent contained and recently prompted a new round of evacuations after crossing into the Cariboo Regional District, but Sell says affected residents did not seek help in Kamloops.

“A lot of the evacuation orders that have been issued recently have been in the Cariboo Regional District and those residents have gone to 100 Mile House for services,” she says.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District’s emergency operation centre has been open at the Sandman Centre arena since July 15.

By then, officials had already expanded evacuation facilities in Kamloops twice as they struggled to accommodate thousands forced out by the Ashcroft-area wildfire and other fires to the north and east.

Chris Duffy with Emergency Management BC said Wednesday that the fires have damaged or destroyed 431 structures, including 220 homes, since the season began on April 1.

BC Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said 158 wildfires are currently burning across the province and many areas are still tinder dry and in desperate need of rain.

He predicted no end in sight for the devastating wildfire season that has charred 11,500 square kilometres of land.

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