WILLIAMS LAKE (NEWS 1130) – Crews battling wildfires in the Central Interior are bracing for more lightning and gusting winds.
A much-needed break in the weather has helped front-line crews bring the number of wildfires burning across the province down from 219 on Tuesday, to 183.
Several fires are currently burning outside of Williams Lake, where about 10,000 people are under an evacuation alert, with municipal officials warning that the expected weather could rapidly push flames toward the city.
More 14,000 people have been forced from their homes province-wide, and Chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek says conditions remain risky.
“We’re continuing to see aggressive fire behaviour out there, especially for fires that are burning in really thick timber. We are expecting a continuation of hot dry conditions across southern BC.”
“We are expecting to see continued hot and dry conditions, still potential for lightning and of course, that mix of wind and lightning was one of the key factors in terms of what we saw unfold on Friday.”
Since Tuesday, only 12 new starts have been recorded but several fires burning since Friday are still out of control.
“The Ashcroft- Cache Creek fire currently estimated at 10,304 hectares. The Princeton fire estimated at 2,700 hectares. The Gustafson wildfire… 5,000 hectares in size. The Wildwood fire, just to the northeast of Williams Lake, currently estimated at 2,500 hectares and the 150 Mile House fire, which is southeast of Williams Lake, currently estimated at 2,600 hectares,” says Skrepnek.
— Alex Hinsche (@AH035) July 8, 2017
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb says more than 10,000 people are obviously anxious.
“Do we go? Don’t we go? How do we make sure we’ve got everything ready? We’re just asking people to be calm and thoughtful of what they’re going to take with them. If they have any kind of medication, make sure they’ve got enough for two or three days, so that if they end up in an evacuation centre somewhere and can’t get to a drug store to get their medication, then to be prepared for at least three days.”
Doctor Sarah Henderson with the BC Centre for Disease Control says several smoke-related air quality advisories remain in effect, and the people most at risk are those who already have breathing-related problems, including asthma.
“We generally see an uptick in medication use for those conditions, in people visiting physicians for those conditions and being admitted to hospital for those conditions. Based on the wider evidence we also expect there will be small increases in… conditions such as cardiac arrest.”
Doctor Bonnie Henry, BC’s deputy provincial health officer, says physical health is not the only concern.
“There are a lot of psychological effects for communities that are facing both the smoke and the direct effects of the fires.”
— Sonia Aslam (@SoniaSAslam) July 12, 2017
Howard Normann, the director of parks for the city, says extra patrols are out and signage has gone up.
“Fire scares me the most, particularly in Stanley Park because it’s not an easy place to navigate and find out where a small fire might actually be. It’s very concerning.”
There’s a new $500 fine in place for anyone who drops a lit cigarette butt in city parks.
“People historically will come to our beach, Third Beach or Second Beach and start a fire at night just because they thinks it’s cool. That’s definitely a ‘no-no’. We’re also watching for people with briquettes for example for barbeques need to be disposed of safely.”
Canadian companies giving back
Canada’s big banks and other companies are donating sizeable sums to the Canadian Red Cross to help the victims of the wildfires in British Columbia.
The Canadian Red Cross has said cash donations for wildfire victims are coming in at an overwhelming rate from across BC and Canada, and with the crisis expected to continue, there is no set goal for fundraising efforts.
On Tuesday, Scotiabank, CIBC, Royal Bank and the Bank of Montreal each said they would donate $50,000 to the relief effort.
The banks also said donations to the Red Cross can be made at any of their branches. Donors are asked to indicate that their donation is for the British Columbia Fires Appeal.
Other corporate donations announced Tuesday include $100,000 each from the Honda Canada Foundation and the British Columbia Automobile Association, plus $25,000 each from Sun Life Financial and CN Rail.
Kinder Morgan Canada and other companies are working to keep the flames away from their infrastructure.
A number of firms have suspended or reduced operations for the indefinite future.
Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley open-pit copper and gold mine in the Williams Lake area is operating at a reduced capacity due to displaced employees, others on evacuation alert, and road closures.
Trans Mountain is monitoring the situation at its pump station in Blackpool, and Pembina is monitoring above-ground facilities and valve sites.
We're signing off Twitter for tonight, will return in the morning. Bella sent us this card this morning – we say "thank you" back 🙂 pic.twitter.com/53PZshHnYZ
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) July 12, 2017
Drive BC has closed sections of several highways across the province because of forest fires. Updates on road closures can be found here.
Emergency Management BC is also setting up a new website for anyone needing updates. You can find that here.
There are several ways to help out those affected by these fires.
If you see smoke, flames or any other fire concerns, call *5555 or 1-800-663-5555