More than 14,000 people are under evacuation orders as firefighters battle more than 231 wildfires covering 320 square kilometres in the B.C. Interior.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says 98 new fires broke out within the last 24 hours.
The B.C. Wildfire Service has an interactive map that lists all active fires in British Columbia. Included on the map — and represented by the large flames — are 17 fires of note that pose a potential threat to public safety.
Monday afternoon, the city of Williams Lake, with a population of more than 10,000, was placed on evacuation alert, meaning residents should be prepared to leave the city at very short notice.
In a release, city officials pointed to the weather forecast for Wednesday which “has the potential to push fires to the west of Williams Lake towards the city at a rapid pace.”
The Canadian Press reported that 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.
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.
Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, 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.
According to Skrepnek, 572 fires have started and 40,000 hectares have burned since April 1. There are about 1,000 firefighters currently on the front lines.
“Evacuation was a complete shock”
Mitch Campsall, mayor of 100-Mile House hasn’t slept in two nights. He’s hot. He’s breathing smoke. He’s also blown away.
“The evacuation was a complete shock, we were not expecting it,” Campsall told Postmedia reporter Denise Ryan.
The notice came at 8:30 last night. “It took the Search and Rescue team about 45 minutes to deliver the letters. Within an hour and a half everybody was out-of-town.”
Residents who needed government help and services were routed to Prince George, as Kamloops could not accept any more evacuees, said Campsall.
The mayor said the public, the volunteers, the search and rescue reps all worked as a team.
“We had no hassles, nothing. It was absolute textbook. Flawless. It couldn’t have gone any better. We have a phenomenal community.”
Forestry workers, firefighters from as far away as Washington State, local volunteer firefighters, teams from across the province and the provincial government are all on the ground working together, said Campsall.
The only thing that’s not cooperating is the weather. “It’s hot. I’ve got the hot sun sitting on me, piercing through the smoke. There’s breeze that comes up and down like a yo-yo.”
Campsall is staying in town, keeping an emergency office stays open.
For now they have everything they need: support, fuel, food, said Campsall.
“The province has been absolutely great with us,” he said. “Amazing.”
“We’ve got all three levels of government, local, regional and provincial are working diligently to see that we have what we need.”
Campsall is overwhelmed by the response. “Nestle, out of Hope, delivered 47,560 bottles of water for residents. The floodgates have opened. We are pretty lucky that we have what we have.”
No houses, businesses or infrastructure has been lost at this time. Campsall plans to stay at the 100-Mile House emergency command centre as long as he can. “Until it becomes unsafe and they tell me it’s time to leave.”
SMOKE SEEN FROM SPACE
Environment Canada says smoke from B.C. wildfires is clouding satellite images of the province.
A special air quality statement has been issued for most of the B.C. interior. The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Interior Health Authority, has issued a Smoky Skies Advisory for the Cariboo, Thompson, Shuswap, Okanagan, 100 Mile, Prince George, Similkameen, Fraser Canyon and Nicola regions.
Residents in those areas are advised to avoid strenuous outdoor activities.
Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk. People who have trouble breathing are advised to stay inside.
CAMP FIRE BAN IS NOW PROVINCE-WIDE
Effective 8 a.m. Monday, all open fires (including campfires) are prohibited throughout British Columbia. This is the first province-wide campfire ban since 2015.
The Northwest Fire Centre was the final region to bring in the ban.
“This prohibition is being implemented due to current weather conditions and the volume of fires that the BC Wildfire Service is responding to in the province. More lightning is in the forecast and firefighting resources must focus on existing fires and new, naturally occurring fires,” B.C. Wildfire Services said in a release. “This prohibition will remain in effect until Oct. 21, 2017, or until the public is otherwise notified.”
The following activities are prohibited:
• Category 2 open fires
• Category 3 open fires
• Burning of any waste, slash or other materials
• Stubble or grass fires of any size over any area
• The use of stoves and other portable campfire apparatuses that are not CSA-approved or ULC-approved
• Fires burning woody debris in outdoor stoves
• Use of tiki torches, fireworks, firecrackers, sky lanterns, burning barrels or burning cages of any size or description
• Use of binary exploding targets (e.g. for rifle target practice)
This prohibition does not apply to cooking stoves that use gas, propane or briquettes, or to a portable campfire apparatus that uses briquettes, liquid or gaseous fuel, so long as the height of the flame is less than 15 centimetres.
RED CROSS APPEALS FOR DONATIONS
The Red Cross is appealing for donations to help wildfire victim. The donations, which can be made online, will help provide immediate relief such as cots, blankets, family reunification and financial assistance for food, clothing and personal needs.
B.C. Liquor Stores will be collecting funds for the B.C. Fires Red Cross relief effort. Liquor store patrons can make donations of $2 or $5 — or multiples of either — by adding it to their order at the checkout counter.
KEEPING TRACK OF LOVED ONES
Interior Health has set up a call line for families whose loved ones have been relocated from health facilities due to wildfire activity in the Cariboo and Thompson-Nicola regions.
“Residential care and assisted living clients, and hospital patients, have been or are being moved from facilities in Ashcroft, 100 Mile House and Williams Lake. Given the sheer number of individuals needing to be moved to other communities, and in a short period of time, Interior Health has not been able to contact all families,” Interior Health said in a release.
The toll-free number is 1-877-442-2001. Inquiries can also be made by email at Patient.email@example.com.
B.C.’s LARGEST FIRES (as of 12:30 p.m. Monday)
Kamloops Fire Centre
Ashcroft Reserve: The interface fire near Ashcroft expanded to 6,100 hectares on Monday. A crew including 120 firefighters, eight helicopters, heavy equipment and support personnel are on site today. An evacuation order was issued on Thursday. Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta said a fire burning between Ashcroft and Cache Creek had destroyed dozens of buildings, including at least five houses, 30 trailer park homes and two hangars at a regional airport.
Thuya Lake Road: The fire near Little Fort is just 315 hectares in size but is threatening buildings and has forced an evacuation. “Difficult terrain is proving access difficult for heavy equipment in some areas. Smoke is thick is the surrounding area, hampering visibility to crews and aircraft,” the wildfire service notes.
Princeton: A fire burning north of Princeton has grown to an estimate 1,500 hectares. The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has issued an evacuation order for the area. A crew of 50 firefighters and two helicopters are fighting the blaze.
Dunn Lake: A pair of wildfires near Dunn Lake, 90 kilometres north of Kamloops, has spread to 1,300 hectares. The B.C. Wildfire Service says some structures are threatened by none have been destroyed. The Thompson Nicola Regional District has issued an evacuation order. The terrain in this area is very rocky and is providing challenging access for heavy equipment. Smoke is thick is the surrounding area, hampering visibility to crews and aircraft.
Cariboo Fire Centre
150 Mile House: Just south of Williams Lake, the 150 Mile House Fire is estimated to have spread to 2,500 hectares. The fire is listed as out of control — zero per cent contained — but the B.C. Wildfire Service says crews have had some success today in building containment lines on both the west and east flanks of the fire yesterday. The Cariboo Regional District has issued an evacuation order for affected areas.
Dragon Mountain: Approximately 25 kilometres southeast of Quesnel, the Dragon Mountain fire has grown to an estimated 1,500 hectares. The B.C. Wildfire service says crews are focussing on containing the fire and protecting critical infrastructure in the area.
Gustafsen: Just west of 100 Mile House, the Gustafsen wildfire is grown to 5,000 hectares. A wind shift Sunday evening caused a significant increase in fire behaviour that has resulted in the community of 100 Mile House being threatened. An evacuation order was put in place Sunday evening for the district of 100 Mile House. More than 100 firefighters as well as an Incident Management Team and support staff, helicopters, air tankers, and 30 pieces of heavy equipment will be on site today.
Hanceville: Fires are burning more than 10,000 hectares in the Hanceville area, located 60 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake. The B.C. Wildfire Service says this incident involves numerous fires over a large area of approximately 25 kilometres by 40 kilometres. The Cariboo Regional District has issued an evacuation order for affected areas.
Wildwood: The fire burning in the Wildwood area near the Williams Lake Airport has grown to 2,000 hectares. The fire is zero per cent contained by crews had success in anchoring the base of the fire into Highway 97 Sunday, meaning they are building containment lines to work from. The focus is on protecting Highway 97 and the community of Wildwood.
Soda Creek: The Soda Creek fire sparked up Saturday night 25 kilometres northwest of Williams Lake, is about 100 hectares in size and is threatening buildings.
Spokin Lake Road: Burning 20 kilometres east of Williams Lake, the Spokin lake fire is 300 hectares in size and is threatening buildings. This area is covered by one of several evacuation orders from the Cariboo Regional District.
Coastal Fire Centre
Harrison Lake: Currently the only active fire in the Coastal Fire Centre region, the 185-hectare Harrison Lake blaze has been burning since July 1 and is now listed at 40 per cent contained. An area restriction order and a forest service road closure has been issued to clear this area of recreationalists. No structures are currently threatened.
Prince George Fire Centre
2.5 km East of War Lake: 16 Firefighters and one helicopter are being used to battle this 55 hectare fire. Another 10 firefighters are en route. The fire is listed as out of control but 50 per cent contained.
5 W of Tatelkuz Lake: The B.C. Wildfire Service says this 950 hectare interface fire has burnt up the edge of private land. An evacuation alert has been issued by Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.
B.C. WILDFIRE ONLINE RESOURCES
THOUSANDS WITHOUT POWER
B.C. Hydro says wildfires in the central and southern Interior have caused significant damage to BC Hydro’s electrical infrastructure and have left thousands without power. B.C. Hydro says there is damage to about 170 power poles, 95 cross-arms, 90 spans of wire and 30 transformers which has left about 7,000 customers without power in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House
“B.C. Hydro is awaiting clearance from fire officials before beginning work in these areas. It may be some time before that happens because it is not safe for crews to enter due to fire activity and heavy smoke,” B.C. Hydro said in a release.
B.C. Hydro says crews have been brought in from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland to support with restoration efforts. About 100 crews are working at this time.
EVACUEES SENT TO KAMLOOPS, PRINCE GEORGE
Thompson Rivers University is now home to a reception centre for evacuees to handle the large number of evacuees from the Cariboo who have headed south to Kamloops. Anyone arriving in Kamloops should report there.
This new reception centre for the province’s Emergency Social Service Centre is located in the Old Main Building. Evacuee services are also still being provided at McArthur Island Park.
The Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team is set up in Kamloops to help those with small pets.
Meanwhile, evacuees from 100 Mile House were directed to Prince George.
According to the news website myprincegeorgenow.com, more than 800 people registered at the city’s emergency evacuation centre. The College of New Caledonia and the Northern Sports Centre are providing space to evacuees, while private citizens are also being asked to open up their homes.
Late Sunday evening, 100 Mile House was placed on an evacuation order. Nearly 200 homes north of Princeton, some near Missezula Lake, were place under and evacuation order.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, the Cariboo Regional District updated an evacuation order for the area around Alexis Creek.
The area runs along a stretch of Highway 20 from 2.5 km west of Alexis Creek to 1 km east of Raven Lake Road. The communities of Alexis Creek and Hanceville are covered by the order.
The area along Highway 20 from 1 km east of Raven Lake Road to the Fraser River is on an evacuation alert. This includes the Riske Creek military range area, Riske Creek, and 10 km up the Chilcotin Meldrum Road.
Late Saturday, the Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation alert for properties on White Road, Ross Road, and Glen Road near Williams Lake.
All B.C. Wildfire evacuees are asked to register with Red Cross online or by phoning 1-800-863-6582.
A full list of road and highway closures is available online at DriveBC.com.
AIRLINES OFFERING DISCOUNTS
Both Westjet and Air Canada are offering flight discounts to people affected by the B.C. Wildfires.
Westjet is offering a 50 per cent discount for people flying out of Prince George to any Canadian destination.
Air Canada is providing a 25 per cent discount to travelers flying out of Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton, Prince George and Williams Lake as a result of the state of emergency. Air Canada is also waiving flight change fees for those travelling to/from/via affected areas between now and July 22.
Monday afternoon, Kamloops airport announced that smoke was causing delays and a number of flights had been cancelled.
“There are a number that have circled,” Fred Legace, the airport’s managing director, said. “One has gone back to Vancouver, a couple may have to go back to Calgary and then try again.”
“The valley is really charged with smoke.”
Legace compared the situation to heavy fog, which is typically an issue just one or two days a year.
Wind is the only thing which will properly clear the air, but that would probably be bad for the fire, he pointed out.
Both the B.C. Wildfire Service and the Canadian Forces would like to base aircraft in Kamloops, he said, but like every other operator, they can’t get in for now because of the smoke.
The situation isn’t all bad, as “it’s given us a day to plan.”
Legace and his staff are using lessons from the 2003 fire season to prepare for the days, when they assume the airport’s capacity could get pushed to the limit. A great many planes, helicopters and personnel can be accommodated at Kamloops airport, but it takes deliberate planning.
“We’ll close down some areas — to park aircraft on taxiways or helicopters on the infield — it could get very tight.”
Typically the airport has about 13 or 14 flights per day but he didn’t see any issue with adding in aircraft fighting fires.
YMCA OPENS ITS DOORS
On Monday, 12 YMCAs in Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna, Surrey, Vancouver and Vancouver Island are opening their doors to people affected by the wildfires.
Evacuees can shower, clean up, rest, or sign up for any of the YMCA’s activities at these locations, said Amanda Alexander, CEO of the YMCA of Northern B.C.
“We know that the province and many of B.C.’s children and families are in a state of emergency right now and we welcome all people impacted by the wildfires to find refuge at the Y,” Alexander said.
Evacuees only need to show ID that has their photo and home address to access services at the centres.
The locations are:
AIRBNB LAUNCHES DISASTER RESPONSE TOOL
AirBnB, a short-term rental service, has launched a disaster response tool to match people who need urgent accommodation with local Airbnb hosts who are opening their homes free of charge. All service fees are waived for those affected by the wildfire and checking in between July 8 and July 31.
“Airbnb has activated our Disaster Response Program to assist residents displaced by the devastating wildfires impacting communities in the Interior of British Columbia. Through our program, those in need of temporary accommodations as a result of this disaster — including emergency relief workers and volunteers — are able to connect with Airbnb hosts in the area who are opening their homes free of charge from now through July 31,” said Kellie Bentz, AirBnB’s head of global disaster response and relief
AirBnB offered the same service during the Fort McMurray fire last year. The concept for the program sprang up in 2012 in response to Hurricane Sandy.
LET LOVED ONES KNOW YOU’RE SAFE WITH FACEBOOK
TELUS OFFERING FREE DATA TO EVACUEES
Telus is waiving overage charges for domestic voice calls, text and data until July 21 for “anyone evacuated due to the #BCwildfires.”
B.C. Parks has closed provincial parks throughout the Interior.
All Cariboo and Chilcotin parks and protected areas are closed.
There is no current threat to any park, but the closures are precautionary to ensure public safety.
OFFERS TO SHELTER ANIMALS
Evacuees with livestock or other large animals should contact the Kamloops emergency operations centre (1-866-377-7188).
The Sundance Ranch on Highway 97C, south of Ashcroft, is accepting horses should people need to find a safe spot.
A Facebook page, B.C.’s Emergency Livestock /Animal Evacuation Group, has also been setup to help evacuees find a safe space for their animals.
WATCH OUT FOR BITES
As the flames from the Ashcroft Reserve wildfire raced toward their homes, residents of Ashcroft and Cache Creek had precious little time to grab what they could from their homes and flee.
While some grabbed photos and medicine, those with pets made sure to snare their cat or dog — and, at the Boston Flats Trailer Park in Ashcroft, an Amazon parrot and a young woodpecker named Peekeekoot.
As evacuees arrived on Friday evening at the emergency response centre in the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, volunteers outside were preparing for pets.
Bonnie McBride of Four Paws Food Bank had earlier on Friday sent 600 pounds of food to affiliated groups in the Cariboo, where a massive wildfire is wreaking havoc near 100 Mile House.
In Kamloops, McBride and others were stacking pet food, containers of water, kennels and other pet supplies to help evacuees arriving with cats, dogs, fish and birds.
She said pet stores and animal lovers donated to the pet food bank.
McBride and her volunteers have since relocated to TRU’s Old Main Building.
While dogs were a common scene at the emergency response centre, the managers of the Boston Flats Trailer Park in Ashcroft — which was consumed by the inferno — arrived in Kamloops with a pair of feathered friends.
Don and Marianne Rumbal manage the park that was ravaged by the fire. Before the flames forced residents to flee, Marianne managed to rescue an Amazon parrot, a pet of tenants Melody and Larry Sytnick.
The tropical bird, obviously frightened by the frenzied and fiery scene, wasn’t about to go gently and let Marianne know by taking a generous bite of its rescuer’s hand, which was wrapped with a Band-Aid when KTW took a look.
“I got the damn parrot,” Marianne said. “And she got me!”
Husband Don also played hero to the winged creatures whose lives were at risk.
A young woodpecker who frequents the trailer park was in peril — from the flames and from some hungry-looking cats — so Don scooped up the bird, placed it in a kitty litter container and drove it to Kamloops, where staff from the B.C. Wildlife Park were set to pick it up.
Marianne said she named the woodpecker Peekeekoot, which she said is the surname of a family that formed the Redfeather band that used to play at dances in the B.C. Interior years ago, noting the percussion habit of a woodpecker on trees.
With files from The Canadian Press and Kamloops This Week