KAMLOOPS, B.C. — British Columbia officials are bracing for a lengthy wildfire season as hundreds of blazes burn across the province with no reprieve in sight.
About 14,000 people have been displaced by more than 200 wildfires and Bob Turner of Emergency Management BC said the situation is still deteriorating.
“We are looking at many weeks to come of a very challenging environment and public safety will remain the overriding priority of government,” he said.
The Cariboo Regional District expanded an evacuation order on Monday night to cover the Alexis Creek and West Fraser areas in addition to the Kleena Kleene region.
An evacuation alert — which puts residents on notice that they may have to leave with little warning — was issued for the more than 10,000 residents of Williams Lake Monday night. Municipal officials warned that wind and lightning forecast for Wednesday could push fires towards the city at a “rapid pace.”
The Tsilhqot’in Nation, which encompasses six communities near Williams Lake, said four of its communities are threatened and many members have already evacuated. Food, water, fuel and medicine are in short supply, it said in a statement.
Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tl’etinqox community, said in the statement that about 250 to 300 people stayed behind, with some mobilizing to fight the fires and save about 120 homes. He said they have some heavy equipment but he called on the federal and provincial governments to bring in more resources.
“We won’t leave without a fight,” said Alphonse, who is also chairman of the Tsilhqot’in National Government.
“These fires are big and unpredictable. Our able bodied volunteers have stayed and are dedicated to saving our communities. Our brave men and women are doing a great job.”
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District also added more properties to its evacuation alert in the Cache Creek area, saying a “rapidly moving wildfire” continues to pose an “imminent threat. The expanded alert includes 57 addressed in three electoral districts.
Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, said gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are expected to persist throughout the province over the next several days, meaning fire crews will not get a reprieve from the weather.
The fires, which have scorched about 400 square kilometres of land, are being fought by some 1,000 B.C. firefighters, with about 300 colleagues and support staff arriving from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick.
Three hundred additional RCMP members from outside the fire areas have been re-deployed to help and another 40 members are being brought in from Alberta, said Deputy Commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr at a news conference.
Officers are patrolling evacuated homes around the clock and several people have been arrested for break and enters or mischief in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake, she said.
“This is an unprecedented situation and one that continues to rapidly change. We appreciate the public’s patience.”
The Canadian Red Cross reported that cash donations for wildfire victims are coming in at an overwhelming rate from across B.C. and Canada. Spokeswoman Lise Ann Pierce said with the crisis expected to continue, there’s no set goal for fundraising efforts.
“Our current short-term goal is to ensure evacuees get somewhere safe and register with the Red Cross,” she said. ”But in the coming days, as we put in the financial assistance process, we can ensure they are getting those funds directly transferred to their bank account.”
Non-cash donations often don’t match up with the need, and incur prohibitive costs for storage and shipping, she added.