Officials ‘scrambling’ to meet needs of B.C. wildfire evacuees: minister

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Fast-moving wildfires in British Columbia are posing serious challenges for crews fighting to keep the flames from more than a dozen communities, officials said Sunday.

As many as 37,000 residents have been forced to leave their homes and are flooding into crowded evacuation centres amid a provincial state of emergency that Transportation Minister Todd Stone said could last “many weeks.”

More evacuation orders were issued Saturday night as winds picked up in the Interior, jumping highways and threatening to cut off escape routes.

Thousands of residents who were told to leave the central Interior city of Williams Lake headed south to Kamloops, which has already become a temporary home for thousands displaced by wildfires this year.

Stone said resources in Kamloops are “approaching the point of being a bit stretched,” but no evacuee will be turned away.

“Officials in Kamloops are scrambling to pull together any and all resources we can to meet the needs of all evacuees who show up here,” he said during a conference call.

“We are going to get through this. We are resilient.”

British Columbia last declared a state of emergency because of wildfires in 2003, when more than 50,000 people were evacuated from Kelowna and the surrounding area.

Robert Turner with Emergency Management BC said this year’s fire season is unique because there are so many fires spread across the province and it’s still early in the season.

“The difference this time is the geographic scope and that we’re seeing multiple communities throughout (the province), and that it’s earlier in the fire season so the possible duration of this is different,” he said.

Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.’s chief fire information officer, said there were more than 160 wildfires burning on Sunday, including 15 that pose a very real threat to nearby communities.

“We were seeing violent behaviour out there on many incidents. In some cases we did have to withdraw our own personnel from the fire line to ensure their safety,” he said.

Hot, windy weather has also caused a fire that started burning near Ashcroft to balloon and fire officials estimate it has now burned through 423 square kilometres.

Fire information officer Ellie Dupont said that blaze has gone through a few towns, but she could not say how many buildings were destroyed.

She said the fire is burning very aggressively because of the weather, the dry fuel and the region’s topography. Every specialist who has come in to work on the fire over the past week has made a comment about how “nasty” the fire is, she said.

Several homes were confirmed lost when a fast-moving fire raced through brush and forest above Okanagan Lake in the community of Lake Country late Saturday.

Officials in Lake Country said residents hoping to get back to their homes on Sunday were being turned away.

Lake Country fire chief Steve Windsor said residents are understandably worried about the possible loss of their homes.

“We’re not releasing the numbers yet,” he said. ”But at this point we’re saying ‘numerous,’ and it is quite numerous.”

A news release from Central Okanagan Emergency Operations said as many as 10 structures had been reported damaged.

Forests Minister John Rustad said on Sunday that 2,900 people are battling blazes across B.C., including 415 from out of province and 203 aircraft.

An EC130 helicopter fighting a fire west of Williams Lake crashed on Saturday, injuring the pilot. Rustad said the pilot, the only person on board at the time of the crash, was in stable condition on Sunday.

Williams Lake Coun. Jason Ryll said his truck was already packed and ready to go when the alert was issued late Saturday.

He said the drive out of town was surreal.

“The lineup of traffic, of people, leaving the city was incredibly long. It was a long ribbon of red tail lights, all headed in the same direction,” he said. “It was almost dreamlike. A scene of a movie, almost, to be leaving in such numbers from your hometown.”

Ryll made it to Kamloops and stayed the night, then headed north on Sunday to meet with the rest of his family members who left for Prince George before the evacuation order was issued.

The roads were much less busy after the evacuation order, and the streets are still blanketed in smoke and ash, he said.

“It’s thick, thick smoke. You can taste it in the air,” he said. “It’s hard to comprehend.”

As a city councillor, Ryll said he’s frustrated that preventative action wasn’t taken earlier.

Forests in the Interior “are tinder-dry, waiting for fire,” he said. “We’ve gotten too good at fighting fires …. This is a problem that is not going to go away.”

More than $81 million has been spent fighting wildfires so far this year.

Just Posted

Red Deer College waiting for feds to finalize marijuana legalization

Like businesses, Alberta and municipal governments, Red Deer College is waiting for… Continue reading

Class size only part of the problem say Central Alberta teachers

Though the Alberta auditor general’s report points out that classroom sizes continue… Continue reading

Lacombe County promoting crime prevention measures

County pushing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles

Red Deer doctor concerned about patient transfers to rural hospitals

Family physician says the move creates less incentive for expansion at Red Deer hospital

Fire permit season begins in March

Earlier springs in last few years prompted Alberta government to move up fire permit season

WATCH: Red Deer’s River Bend upgrades officially open

River Bend Golf and Recreation Area is the latest venue to be… Continue reading

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

In Pyeongchang, maintaining Olympic venues relies on a poor, aging workforce

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Hockey players from Finland were circling with the… Continue reading

Trudeau’s fashion missteps highlight what not to wear on vacation

TORONTO — The traditional garb that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his… Continue reading

Stores make push in scan and go tech, hope shoppers adopt it

NEW YORK — Shoppers at self-checkout lanes scanning all their groceries after… Continue reading

‘Stars seemed to have aligned’ for new Halifax CFL bid, commissioner says

HALIFAX — CFL fans in Halifax have been told the league is… Continue reading

The language of ‘Black Panther’? It’s real. Give it a try.

OTTAWA — The military’s top general has promised to get to the… Continue reading

The language of ‘Black Panther’? It’s real. Give it a try.

JOHANNESBURG — Much of what is seen in “Black Panther” is fictional,… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month