Thousands evacuated as hot dry conditions feed flames
Firefighters in the air and on land prepared Sunday for another grueling battle with wildfires that have ravaged the westernmost Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.).
As of early Sunday morning, 289 wildfires raged in the interior regions of the province, according to the B.C. wildfire service’s website, with 7,000 residents evacuated.
The fires began in earnest early Friday and spread so rapidly that Todd Stone, B.C.’s minister of emergency management, declared a province-wide state of emergency.
“This is an urgent situation,” said a written statement on the website.
Nearly 2,000 firefighters battled the blazes, but their efforts were hampered by dry and hot conditions in recent weeks that provided the perfect incubator for the outbreak, and they continue to feed them. Dozens of aircraft have also been brought in to drop water on the fires.
Another 260 firefighters from across the country are expected to arrive early next week, officials told Canadian media.
Evacuation orders and alerts were issued for more than 12 communities, many populated by Indigenous peoples.
Wildfires are a common occurrence in British Columbia, with its heavily treed and wooded interior.
Between April 1 and July 7, 463 fires had consumed 113 square kilometers (70 square miles). But the current blazes are the most aggressive veteran firefighters have witnessed.
“I have been in this business for 17 years … and I haven’t experienced a day like we experienced yesterday,” Kamloops deputy fire center manager Cliff Chapman said, Saturday. “We have never seen wide-scale evacuations like this.”
The last state of emergency in the province was declared in 2003, when 2,500 fires broke out.
Officials warned this latest round of fires was growing in intensity and the situation would get worse before it got better.
“We knew we were heading into a fairly volatile situation,” B.C. fire information chief Kevin Skrepnek told Canadian media. “What we didn’t see coming was the extent of wind … and also a significant of dry lightning.”
Lightning can start fires particularly when unaccompanied by rain.