Dozens of properties are on evacuation order or alert in British Columbia’s Kootenay region after new wildfires near Cranbrook temporarily shut the city’s airport.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says the St. Mary’s River wildfire is thought to have been sparked by downed power lines and has grown to three square kilometres.
A statement from the St. Mary’s Indian Band Monday evening says fire crews worked to protect structures as helicopters and air tankers tackled the blaze from above in strong winds and tough flying conditions.
The City of Cranbrook says the airport was reopened by 8 p.m. Monday but evacuation alerts remain in place.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says it’s dealing with nearly 400 fires, including notable blazes near Burns Lake in the Bulkley-Nechako area.
The service says the Tintagel wildfire, the Parrot Lookout wildfire and the Peacock Creek wildfire are all “wildfires of note,” and is reminding people not to interfere with firefighting after receiving reports of people riding all-terrain vehicles near active blazes.
B.C. is approaching its worst wildfire season on record as more than 390 fires burn in the province.
Wildfire Service figures show flames have consumed more than 12,900 square kilometres of land so far this year, just short of the 13,500 square kilometres burned in 2018.
Sophie Wilkinson, an assistant professor in environmental management at Simon Fraser University, says the season is on track to be the worst on record, aggravated by widespread and severe drought.
Her comments come after Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair announced last week that federal assistance, including military resources, were being mobilized to help B.C.
As troops arrive in the province, Public Safety Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces and B.C. emergency management and wildfire officials met to discuss deployment of the federal resources.
The ministry of emergency management and fire officials are expected to announce plans for the aid later today, as well as provide an overview of current conditions.
Wilkinson says the wildfire season is also unprecedented because there have been historic wildfire seasons in other provinces and territories, so interprovincial resources are stretched thin.
“Although military aid has not been common in the past, it will become increasingly common because the severity of both British Columbia and Canada’s wildfire seasons is increasing because of climate change,” Wilkinson said.
Sarah Budd, aprovincial fire information officer for the B.C. Wildfire Service, said the military is expected to work in a supportive role.
“They’re not going to be doing … direct attack. That takes a lot of training,” she said. “They’ll be doing more of the mop up and support services.”
B.C. has also asked for 1,000 international firefighters through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which co-ordinates firefighting resources across the country.