KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Help from other provinces and the federal government has begun to pour in for firefighters and thousands of evacuees grappling with more than 230 intense wildfires raging across British Columbia.
About 300 firefighters and support staff from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick were expected to start arriving Monday to help relieve the pressure on roughly 1,000 B.C. firefighters battling the blazes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke with Premier Christy Clark as well as premier-designate John Horgan on Sunday night and the Canadian Armed Forces have sent aircraft and personnel to support the emergency response to the fires.
Residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., who had to flee a massive wildfire last year, have also sprung into action by collecting donations of supplies, driving them to B.C. and offering support and advice on social media.
Christopher Seguin, vice-president of advancement at Thompson Rivers University, said terrified evacuees arrived at a Kamloops reception centre with nothing, having “lost everything and having lost it quickly.”
He said four tonnes of supplies arrived from Fort McMurray including wrapped and sealed water, Gatorade and baby supplies, and volunteers were making sure the Kamloops food bank receives and distributes them.
Seguin expressed his gratitude to the residents of Fort McMurray.
“Thank you. Thank you for giving back and thank you for going to an extraordinary effort to making sure we get exactly what we need at exactly the right time,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Monday more than 230 fires were burning, with 98 considered new within the “last day or so.” At least 10 were in “close proximity” to communities and more than 10,000 people have been affected by evacuation orders.
The entire District of 100 Mile House, a community of roughly 1,800 people, was ordered evacuated Sunday night.
Al Richmond, chairman of the Cariboo Regional District, said the last evacuees from 100 Mile House left around 2 a.m. Monday on a bus to Prince George to receive emergency assistance. Others headed to the Lower Mainland, he said.
Some nearby communities were under evacuation alert and residents were told to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.
Speaking from 100 Mile House, Richmond said the community was “smoky.”
“The power’s on, but the fire’s not in the town,” he said.
BC Hydro said the blazes in the central and southern Interior have caused significant damage to electrical infrastructure and have left thousands without power. The utility was actively working with Emergency Management BC and fire officials to restore electricity.
The fires have burned through more than 320 square kilometres of timber, bush and grassland. The largest blaze, covering more than 60 square kilometres, is burning near Ashcroft, an Interior community about 90 kilometres from Kamloops.
Goodale said B.C. has requested 3,000 cots and 3,000 blankets from federal stockpiles and they have been delivered to Prince George.
The province also asked for air support from the Canadian Armed Forces, which will be used for emergency evacuations and to move firefighters, emergency officials and equipment around the fire zone.
“The request from British Columbia was not for Canadian Forces personnel on the ground to fight fires,” Goodale said at a news conference in Regina. “The Canadian Forces personnel have been asked to actually deal with the movements of those air assets.”
He added: “It’s a relatively small number at this moment but we are in very early days here.”
Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta has said the fire between Ashcroft and Cache Creek has destroyed dozens of buildings, including at least five houses, 30 trailer park homes and two hangars at a regional airport.
Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, said structures had definitely been lost in multiple fires across the province, but the assessment of how many was still underway.
A provincewide state of emergency was declared on Friday after 140 new fires broke out, in part due to a significant lightning system that hit central B.C. About 100 new fires broke out on Saturday.
Skrepnek said gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are expected to continue for days.
“Unfortunately, in terms of the weather forecast, we’re not really seeing any reprieve in the immediate future,” he said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said firefighters and support staff were also coming from Nova Scotia.