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BC wildfires forcing evacuations

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Evacuation orders or alerts are in effect for a handful of commercial operations in northeastern BC, as well as a number of cabins in some areas of the province as wildfires intensify.

An evacuation order was issued Tuesday in northeastern BC as the 100-square kilometre Mount McAllister blaze threatens a wind farm in a remote area between Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. Two-hundred BC Hydro workers are also being evacuated from the Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon due to the wildfire.

The order, from the Peace River Regional District, adds to one it issued earlier as the 64-square kilometre Red Deer Creek fire swept toward three oil-and-gas camps southeast of Tumbler Ridge.

Two-hundred BC Hydro workers are also being evacuated from the Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon due to the wildfire. It says the evacuation will not impact its ability to provide power to the province, as both stations can be operated remotely. It also says more of the load can be shifted to generating stations on the Columbia River, including Mica and Revelstoke, if required.

Evacuation orders also cover a provincial park and several cabins around Tetachuck Lake in the Bulkley-Nechako region of northwestern BC, threatened by the 130-square kilometre Chelaslie Arm blaze.

Residents around Murray Lake must be ready to leave at any moment as crews fight the small, but aggressive Maka-Murray fire southwest of Merritt as BC’s wildfire risk is now rated as high to extreme.

“There’s a wildfire that’s west of Murray Lake, which is near the toll booth on the Coquihalla,” says Mike Garrett with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. “There are 30 to 35 property points on Murray Lake. All of those are covered under the evacuation alert.”

Garrett says it’s possible an evacuation order will be necessary if the situation develops further.

“It’s all dependent on what we hear from the fire centre,” Garrett says. “If the fire turns, if the winds pick up, or something happens to change the nature of the fire — or if it gets too close to that area — then the situation could change, but that’s totally the call of the Wildfire Management Branch.”

Humans are blamed for a five-hectare fire in West Kelowna that burned near homes on the east slope of Mount Boucherie — but had been reduced to smoulders by early evening.

And 27 firefighters and four airtankers rushed to an area west of Penticton when a fire was reported in the Apex Mountain region.

That fire scorched almost a quarter of a square kilometre within hours but the Wildfire Management Branch says it is not threatening any properties.

Meantime, one expert thinks this year’s forest fire season will be as bad as it was in 2003 when a massive blaze near Kelowna forced tens of thousands from their homes, burning 25,000 hectares of land.

Kelly Hatfull, a forester and instructor at BCIT thinks something the province should really consider is controlled burns to get rid of all the dry needles and branches on the forest floor.

“And reduce those fire hazards because we can’t fight those fires on the ground, we can only attack them from the air, basically, hope the weather shifts to help us combat those big fires.”

Right now there are about 1,000 crew members, including personnel from Ontario, helping fight fires across BC.

Campfire bans take effect today

By this time tomorrow, campfire bans will be in effect across more than half of the province.

Bans took effect at noon today in the Cariboo and Kamloops fire centres with campfires snuffed out in all but a handful of locations by tomorrow in the Coastal and Northwest districts.

The regulations are slated to remain in effect until September 30th — or until they are lifted by provincial officials.

Many communities such as Whistler, Vernon and Enderby have also banned backyard campfires or other burning within city limits and residents are urged to check with local authorities before sparking up the backyard marshmallow roast.