No state of emergency yet for B.C. as hundreds of wildfires burn, provincial officials say

·5 min read
The BC Wildfire Service set a controlled burn on Monday in an attempt to head off the Deka Lake wildfire in the Cariboo region. (BC Wildfire Service - image credit)
The BC Wildfire Service set a controlled burn on Monday in an attempt to head off the Deka Lake wildfire in the Cariboo region. (BC Wildfire Service - image credit)

B.C. government ministers say any decision about declaring a state of emergency over wildfires in the Interior will be made on the advice of emergency management officials.

The current advice is that a state of emergency is not needed, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told reporters Tuesday, as more than 200 wildfires burn across the province following a record-breaking heat wave.

"When they tell me it's now time to move into that provincial state of emergency, then it is time to," he said.

Farnworth, Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy spoke with the media after meeting Tuesday with representatives of Lytton, B.C., in the neighbouring community of Lillooet, following a wildfire that destroyed Lytton and left at least two people dead.

They also flew over the devastation in Lytton, where Horgan said there is "literally nothing left."

"The townsite is virtually gone," he said of the Fraser Canyon village, located about 150 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

Officials believe the fire that razed Lytton was caused by human activity, but the source is still under investigation.

On Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for Canadian National Railway, which operates a rail line through the village, said the company's train did not cause a fire.

In an email to the Canadian Press, CN said it has investigated a video circulating on social media depicting a train characterized as having caused the fire in the Village of Lytton and the nearby Lytton First Nation.

After examining the evidence, CN said it has concluded the video does not show a train in or near Lytton at the time of the fire in the village.

"In fact, the video shows a train 45 kilometres south of Lytton, and the smoke seen in the video comes from a different fire that was already burning,'' said Mathieu Gaudreault, a CN spokesman.

Gaudreault said the train in the video was identified by CN operations staff as Train M3551 28, originating in Prince Rupert, bound for Vancouver.

"Train M3551 28 passed uneventfully through Lytton at 1327 PDT, hours before the wildfire that destroyed Lytton was first reported.''

WATCH: B.C. Premier John Horgan reflects on the early, brutal start to wildfire season

Meanwhile, the premier told reporters he was deeply moved speaking to firefighters who had lost their homes in Lytton but were still on the job. "Despite their personal loss, they remain stoic and focused on the task at hand," he said.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District says a bus tour of the Lytton area has been arranged for local residents on Friday, and plans are underway for either a feeding or rescue operation of the animals that remain within the evacuated area.

'Where many buildings stood is now simply charred earth'

The Village of Lytton provided more details about the current condition in town in a written statement later Tuesday night.

"A few buildings survived in town but nearly every home in the centre of the village is gone. Where many buildings stood is now simply charred earth," the village's statement says.

Town officials say that several injuries have been reported along with the deaths of two residents.

"Out of respect to the families of our lost, we will not discuss their tragedy. We want everyone to know that their bravery was incredible in the face of this unimaginable horror," the statement says.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Right now, there is no electricity, water or sewer service in town, and officials are testing the water supply to see if it has been contaminated. CP Rail and CN have no access to the village apart from activities related to fire suppression.

"Infrastructure has been destroyed. What has not been melted, incinerated or damaged beyond repair has been compromised to the point of being unsafe," the statement says.

"For those looking at heartbreaking pictures of our village, please understand that if a wall is standing, it does not mean there is anything on the other side of it."

'We need to do better'

According to the premier, the province is committed to making sure everyone affected by the fires gets the resources they need throughout this fire season.

"It's the first week in July and we have a long road ahead of us," he said.

Horgan said the losses so far this summer underscore the need for much more work on clearing potential wildfire fuel around communities, including during the winter months.

"We need to do better, and we're going to do that," he said.

The premier also acknowledged the unprecedented hot weather that created prime conditions for this year's fires is going to become more common due to human-caused climate change, and the province needs to do more to prepare and protect the public.

There are currently 208 wildfires burning in the province, according to the BC Wildfire Service, and 39 of those were sparked over the last two days.

Thirteen are considered "fires of note," which means they are highly visible or pose a potential threat to the public.

Evacuation orders are in place for five wildfires, including the Lytton Creek wildfire, which is currently 77 square kilometres in size.

The wildfire service says the Sparks Lake fire, north of Kamloops, has burned 392 square kilometres.

Dozens of firefighting personnel from outside the province have been arriving in B.C. this week to assist with efforts in the hot, dry Interior.

Fire risk is high across most of B.C., with extreme risk in parts of the Okanagan.

Air quality advisories have been issued throughout the B.C. Interior, as smoke from wildfires lingers. Environment Canada said the Okanagan Valley and the Thompson-Nicola region will be most affected by smoke over the next few days.

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 BC website.

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

Those looking for loved ones can contact the Canadian Red Cross for family reunification services at 1-800-863-6582.

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