‘Long days ahead,’ says Eby as B.C.’s wildfire evacuation orders and alerts climb
July 12, 2023 By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Escalating wildfires and worsening drought across British Columbia signal challenging times ahead, with the province and nation facing the worst fire season in 100 years, said Premier David Eby.
Evacuation orders and alerts were expanded Tuesday near several wildfires in B.C.’s northern regions as communities try to keep residents safe and the BC Wildfire Service battles an increasing number of fires.
Eby, in Winnipeg for a meeting of premiers Tuesday, said help is on the way for fire-threatened communities, but the coming months could see conditions not experienced in a century.
The Regional District of Bulkley Nechako ordered more properties evacuated late Monday near two out-of-control fires in the Burns Lake area of central B.C., including a 3.5-square-kilometre blaze just east of the village, not far from Highway 16.
The district says the evacuation is mainly to protect infrastructure and to close surrounding recreational trails, while the other evacuation, along the north shore of Francois Lake, south of Burns Lake, now affects about 60 properties threatened by the 20-square-kilometre Parrot Lookout wildfire.
B.C.’s emergency information website said that about 150 people are out of their homes and hundreds more are on evacuation alert while the wildfire service website said late Tuesday that it was handling 316 active wildfires across the province, 33 of them sparked within the past day.
“To British Columbians who are involved and who are facing potential evacuation or are in a state of emergency, we’re bringing on those resources to support you and your communities to fight those fires,” Eby said.
“We expect long days ahead,” Eby said. “The federal government has noted that we expect this to be nationally the worst fire season in 100 years and we don’t expect B.C. will be an exception to that rule given where we are right now.”
Eby expressed gratitude toward firefighters from the United States and Mexico who are on the “frontlines” battling wildfires with B.C. counterparts.
He said more international firefighters are on the way to B.C. to fight fires and the province has placed orders for more equipment, particularly air support.
The province has already spent $200 million this year fighting the wildfires, Eby said.
In Yukon, crews report a wildfire just west of Whitehorse that has been burning since Saturday is now close to eight square kilometres but is no nearer to homes along the south side of the Alaska Highway.
An evacuation alert for about 155 properties in the Ibex Valley area remains in effect.
Thirty-two firefighters, four wildfire officers and a structure protection team as well as four helicopters and two air-tanker groups are being used to fight the blaze.
A second evacuation alert covering a dozen properties is in place for the Silver Trail between Stewart Crossing and Mayo, about 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse, due to the nearby 10-square-kilometre Reverse Creek fire.
Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said Tuesday that Yukoners should follow the fire bans in place across the territory and have a 72-hour emergency kit prepared.
“The intense wildfire season our neighbours in the south have experienced this summer has finally arrived in the territory,” he said.
“And while we know seeing plumes of smoke nearby can be stressful, we are urging all Yukoners to keep themselves informed and to stay calm.”
Mike Fancie, a community engagement officer with wildland fire management, said officials are exploring potentially bringing in help from outside the territory to fight the fires.
“As I’m sure everyone across the country has seen, there’s a very high demand for firefighting resources,” he said.
“So our duty officers are working to see what we need and what’s available to ensure that we have enough resources to really ensure that we are able to manage these situations.”
Heat warnings are still posted for Yukon as temperatures nudge 30 C in some places, but Environment Canada says showers and a cooling trend are on the way.
Thunderstorms are forecast for much of the B.C. Interior and large sections of the province and Yukon will have to endure hazy, smoke-filled skies at least for the next several days.
Much of B.C. is facing drought conditions, said Eby.
“Many parts of the province are in significant drought right now,” he said. “We’re seeing levels of drought in our province we usually don’t see until much later in the summer.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness is expected to provide a provincial drought update later this week.