VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – More than 1,000 evacuees in Sicamous are waiting to see what happens, as a wildfire spreads on the southern outskirts of the community. They are under just one of dozens of evacuation orders and alerts affecting communities across the B.C. Interior.
BC Wildfire Service crews are getting a boost from out-of-province and out-of-country reinforcements, and forestry workers may also be called in to help.
About 100 firefighters from Mexico are due to arrive in B.C. Saturday to bolster wildfire efforts in B.C. The province is also in talks with Australia to see if it can lend personnel.
The Council of Forestry Industries says companies in the sector are in regular contact with the government and Wildfire Service.
“We have people that are very experienced with this,” said Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the council. “We have people, we have equipment, and we have expertise. So, we are called upon where we’re needed. Of course, we step up and do whatever we can to help out with the effort.”
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B.C. already has crews from Alberta, New Brunswick, and Quebec helping in the fight.
More than 3,000 firefighters are working to suppress the flames threatening dozens of communities.
The director of provincial operations for the BC Wildfire Service says strong winds are predicted to come up from the U.S., fanning the flames in the province’s Interior over the next 48 hours. No moisture is expected, and the dry Southeast and Cariboo regions could see more lightning that could ignite more fires.
Hundreds of people have been told to be ready to leave their homes, if a shift in the wind moves dangerous and destructive wildfires toward properties and people.
A wildfire near Oliver and Osoyoos in the south Okanagan could also grow due to weather conditions Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Nk’Mip Creek Wildfire spread eastward, forcing an additional 122 properties to evacuate within the Regional District of the Kootenay Boundary. Another 300 properties were put on alert.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary has declared a state of local emergency in Electoral Area E/West Boundary as a result.
Wildfires throwing another challenge for people and businesses
During a meeting with fire officials in Castlegar, B.C. Premier John Horgan said plans are in place to help people being under evacuation order and businesses that were already hurting from the pandemic and are now hit again by the fires.
They include hotels, tourism operators, and wine producers.
“On the agriculture side, they were hoping for bumper crops with decent weather. Now we have berry crops, cherries and other soft fruits that have been profoundly affected by the heat and they’ll, of course, also be affected by the fires,” Horgan said.
For people ousted from their homes due to fires – some travelling hours to get to an evacuation centre – he says plans are underway to set up cots in recreation centres or use student housing at post-secondary institutions.
“That means working with the hospitality sector working with post-secondary institutions –Thomson Rivers University, for example — and other institutions in the Interior that have housing available.”
For the hotels, tour operators and wineries counting on people vacationing this summer to boost their bottom lines, Horgan said, “Obviously smoke in the Okanagan is going to have a dampening effect on tourism.”
Meanwhile, air quality has been a big concern across B.C.
As of Wednesday morning, no air quality advisory had been issued on the South Coast, though it is one of the few regions in Western Canada without smoky conditions.
However, wildfire smoke from B.C. and the western United States has made its way to the U.S. East Coast.
Accuweather reports air quality advisories are in effect for New York City as well as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Tuesday night, the Big Apple reported its worst Air Quality Index rating of the year so far — an unhealthy 137.
While not a yearly occurrence, high wildfire activity in the western U-S has pushed smoke to the other side of the country before.
– With files from Claire Fenton and The Canadian Press