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B.C. declares state of emergency over wildfire season, preparing for potential ‘mass evacuation’

High winds forecast for Interior and across southern regions
B.C. forest firefighters head into an area south of Lytton to perform a back-burn, June 17, 2021. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

B.C. is imposing a province-wide state of emergency at midnight Tuesday, with the situation in the Interior worsening and the prospect of “mass evacuations” at 100 Mile House and other communities under evacuation orders or alerts.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the provincial order, in addition to emergency orders imposed by local governments, brings authority he hopes will not be needed to enforce evacuations. With more than 3,000 people now engaged in firefighting, the federal government has approved additional personnel in addition to Canadian Forces and Parks Canada, plus from New Brunswick and Quebec and 100 firefighters from Mexico due to arrive this weekend.

Farnworth said the provincial state of emergency was called for by B.C. Wildfire Service and Emergency Management B.C. in a briefing and weather report on Monday evening. The call comes as local officials from Kamloops and other hard-hit communities said they have run out of evacuation spaces and volunteers are “stretched thin,” he said.

Farnworth said B.C. has 13 evacuation centres activated in total, and those outside the Cariboo and Kamloops regions such as in Prince George have significant space for more evacuees.

“In a briefing last night, I received word that we’ll be facing a few days of very difficult weather in the Interior,” Farnworth said. “This declaration will address the potential of a mass evacuation scenario and provide our government with the means to secure the accommodation spaces necessary to house our citizens, if necessary.”

The B.C. Wildfire Service issued a wind advisory for the Interior, southern Interior and southeastern B.C. from Tuesday to Thursday, and gave a warning about the provincial state of emergency.

“People who remain in an area that is under an evacuation order may impede the ability of fire crews to fight a wildfire, because crews may be forced to stop fighting the fire to keep people out of harm’s way,” B.C. Wildfire Service said in a statement. “People who decide to ‘wait and see’ if they need to evacuate an area may find their escape route blocked by fallen trees or abandoned vehicles, and familiar landmarks may be obscured by thick smoke.”

As of July 20, there are 299 wildfires burning in B.C., with 40 evacuation orders affecting 5,724 people and 2,862 properties, in addition to 69 evacuation alerts impacting 32,076 people and 16,038 properties. The extended weather forecast calls for continued hot and dry conditions, with heightened wind activity in the Interior and southeastern B.C.

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The B.C. and federal governments are matching donations to the Red Cross program to assist B.C. communities affected by an early, aggressive wildfire season.

Each dollar privately donated to the British Columbia Fires Appeal will provide $3 for the effort, retroactive to July 3 when the Canadian Red Cross launched the effort in response to the sudden wildfire that destroyed much of the B.C. Interior community of Lytton.

Donations can be made online, toll free by phone at 1-800-418-1111, or by texting FIRES to 45678. Donations to that fund are also being collected at B.C. government liquor and cannabis stores.


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