Growing number of B.C. residents ordered to leave their homes as wildfires rage

·5 min read
The Brenda Creek wildfire is burning south of the Okanagan Connector, about 40 kilometres from West Kelowna. July 14, 2021. (B.C. Wildfire Service - image credit)
The Brenda Creek wildfire is burning south of the Okanagan Connector, about 40 kilometres from West Kelowna. July 14, 2021. (B.C. Wildfire Service - image credit)

More than 1,500 properties in B.C.'s Cariboo region are under an evacuation order issued Wednesday because of wildfires in the area, while other fires are threatening the communities of Ashcroft and Cache Creek.

The Cariboo Regional District issued an order Wednesday for 1,074 properties in the area from Flat Lake to Green Lake, south of 100 Mile House. Another order covers 482 properties to the east, from Canim Lake to Mahood Lake.

"Due to immediate danger to life safety due to fire, members of the RCMP or other groups will be expediting this action," the district said.

The entire community of 100 Mile House and people in the nearby Horse Lake area are now under evacuation alerts. There are roughly 2,000 people living in 100 Mile. The Horse Lake bulletin covers 3,086 properties.

People in those areas are asked to be prepared to leave their homes at a moment's notice. Interior Health says it has begun moving a small number of patients with complex needs from 100 Mile District General Hospital while the wildfire threat continues, but the hospital is otherwise operating normally.

Supplied by Ruby Prince
Supplied by Ruby Prince

There are seven wildfires of note burning in the Cariboo region. The largest are around Flat Lake and Canim Lake.

Fire information officer Erin Bull said conditions in the region are not expected to improve in the coming days.

"We are expecting the same hot weather and windy conditions so the predicted fire behaviour continues to be fairly aggressive," she told CBC News.

Fire activity was also heating up directly south of the Cariboo throughout the day. A new evacuation order was issued Wednesday night for the Young Lake area, covering 117 properties threatened by a fire.

Residents of 50 properties to the southeast of Ashcroft were ordered to leave their homes Wednesday evening because of a growing wildfire near Barnes Creek.

Parts of Ashcroft and the surrounding area, the entire village of Cache Creek, and the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve are now on alert as well.

To the north in the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District, another evacuation order remains in effect near Fort St. James because of a wildfire near Camsell Lake. It includes Yekooche First Nation reserves and portions of Rubyrock Lake Provincial Park and Sutherland River Park.

The regional district has also issued an evacuation order in relation to the Cutoff Creek wildfire burning north of Big Bend Arm.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says much of the central part of the province is at extreme risk of wildfires, with more than 300 burning across B.C. Two dozen provincewide are highly visible or pose a potential threat to public safety.

Supplied by Ruby Prince
Supplied by Ruby Prince

Helicopter to assist with evacuations

Major highways remain closed in the province Wednesday, including Highway 97 north of 70 Mile House and Highway 20 in the Anahim Lake region. The latter is the only highway through B.C.'s Chilcotin region.

The fire, known as the Big Stick Lake fire, jumped Highway 20 on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Ulkatcho First Nation. Because the road is closed, a military helicopter has been dispatched to Anahim Lake Airport to help shuttle evacuees out of the area.

Meanwhile to the south, evacuation orders issued for the Kamloops area late Tuesday are still in effect. The orders cover more than 180 properties around the city, including areas near Savona and Copper Creek.

Nearly 200 properties in the Barnes Lake area east of Kamloops are on alert as of Wednesday.

The fire responsible, known as the Sparks Lake fire, is roughly 402 square kilometres. There have been reports of buildings damaged or destroyed by the flames, but the Thompson-Nicola Regional District has not been able to verify the damage.

B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter
B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter

All the wildfire smoke in the Kamloops area has caused the air quality to deteriorate significantly. By mid-afternoon, the Air Quality Health Index had hit "very high" risk levels, meaning that strenuous outdoor activities should be avoided.

North of Lytton, an order is in place for 17 properties in the Gladwin Mobile Home Park and Jade Springs area, east of the village, because of the Lytton Creek wildfire.

Air quality statements in effect

Much of central and eastern British Columbia is under a special weather bulletin warning of smoky skies, as hundreds of wildfires rage out of control in the province.

Environment Canada issued the special air quality statement, warning of the smoke for the next few days in areas stretching from the Interior north to Yukon and east to the Alberta boundary.

Justin McElroy/CBC
Justin McElroy/CBC

Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with the Meteorological Service of Canada, said B.C. residents should be prepared for smoky skies to linger into the fall.

"We're going to see this for months,'' he said in an interview. "There's smoke all over, from Alaska down to Mexico. All we need ... is the wind to go the wrong direction and bring it back up from other locations.''

Several areas of the province are also subject to a heat warning, including the Fraser Canyon, where the village of Lytton was destroyed by fire last month, with daytime highs predicted of up to 38 C.

The province is asking residents to remain cautious and be responsible in preventing possible fires, after the wildfire service, RCMP and Kamloops Fire Rescue responded to five suspicious blazes Tuesday night. All are believed to have been human-caused.

BC Wildfire statistics (2011- 2021 to June 15)

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately.

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

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