BC Wildfires: Hundreds of Fires Burning, No Reprieve in Sight

'We won't leave without a fight,' says chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government
July 12, 2017 Updated: July 12, 2017

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 and the province remains prepared for the possibility of mass evacuations. 

“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 July 10 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—has been issued for the more than 10,000 residents of Williams Lake. Municipal officials had warned that wind in the forecast could push fires toward the city at a “rapid pace.”

However, BC Wildfire Service chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek said July 12 that while the incoming system will bring lightning, it is also expected to carry some rain.

We are looking at many weeks to come of a very challenging environment and public safety will remain the overriding priority.
— Bob Turner,  Emergency Management BC

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 chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band north of Ashcroft said they also defied an evacuation order over the weekend and successfully stopped flames from overrunning their reserve.

“My community has some really skilled firefighters, like a lot of First Nations reserves, and they came together and they stopped that wildfire from wiping out that whole community,” Chief Ryan Day said in an interview.

Skrepnek 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, Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick.

Three hundred additional RCMP members from outside the fire areas have been redeployed 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 enter 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 that 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 they incur prohibitive costs for storage and shipping, she added.

From The Canadian Press