WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — Fire officials in British Columbia say they’re relieved by a slight reprieve in the weather forecast that had been calling for strong winds where dozens of fires are burning.
BC Wildfire Service chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek said forecasters have revised their prediction for an incoming weather system.
“We are expecting there to be some lightning with this system but it is likely to have some rain with it,” he said, adding the overall pattern is for hot, dry conditions to continue.
“We were a little bit more concerned about today’s wind, but the forecast has shifted a little bit and we expect it’s going to be milder than first thought, but wind is a tricky thing to forecast so we are bracing for the worst and keeping a close eye on it.” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Crews took advantage of calmer conditions to make progress on fire guards near Williams Lake, where 10,000 people remain on evacuation alert.
Twelve new fires were sparked Tuesday, just a fraction of the more than 100 that broke out each day last weekend, Skrepnek said. There are about 200 fires burning province-wide, he said.
Modest gains in fighting the fires mean an evacuation order was lifted for the community of Little Fort, north of Kamloops, although an alert remains in effect as three large fires burn nearby, he said.
More than 14,000 people have been displaced by wildfires from Princeton in the south to Quesnel in central B.C.
Bob Turner with of Emergency Management BC said the province remains prepared for the possibility of mass evacuations.
Skrepnek said if an evacuation order goes into effect in Williams Lake, people will be sent north on Highway 97 to Prince George, but Canadian Armed Forces aircraft and helicopters are also standing by in case airlifts are necessary.
Turner says the province’s priority is public safety and he encourages people to heed evacuation orders when they are issued.
But the chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band north of Ashcroft said they defied an evacuation order over the weekend and successfully stopped flames from overrunning their reserve.
“My community has some really skilled firefighters, like a lot of First Nations reserves, and they came together and they stopped that wildfire from wiping out that whole community,” Chief Ryan Day said in an interview. “We actually didn’t lose anything other than the guys who had livestock, they lost a bunch of range land.”
He said 60 of the band’s 280 members stayed to fight the fire.
The community doesn’t have a firehall, a new water reservoir hasn’t been connected to their main supply yet and they don’t have a formal emergency response plan in place.
But Day said the experience of the trained forest firefighters in his community and access to heavy equipment from other members’ agricultural businesses contributed to their success.
“We weren’t prepared for it of course because it happened in a blink of an eye, but we snapped into action and everyone did their part,” he said.
Evacuees who are staying in communities from Kamloops to Vancouver can’t return home yet, Day said, as hot spots and a fire near Cache Creek remain a cause for concern.
Over $53 million of B.C.’s $63-million wildfire budget has been spent since the season began on April 1, but once it is exceeded, the wildfire service has immediate access to contingency funding, Skrepnek said.