Dry and windy conditions are expected to push the number of evacuees across the province to new highs and now refuge centres are starting to open up within Metro Vancouver.
Robert Turner of Emergency Management BC says an evacuation centre has opened up in Surrey’s Cloverdale neighbourhood.
“Surrey has activated their emergency social services, we understand, for people that have evacuated to the Lower Mainland area,” he explains.
An estimated 17,400 British Columbians have been forced from their homes.
Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek says there are 161 fires burning across the province as of Saturday afternoon, but notes that number fluctuates by the minute.
He’s expecting lighting in Fort St. John, the Kootenay region, as well as in the Cariboo and throughout much of Northern BC.
“The big challenge today is the wind event that is going to be upon us very shortly,” he says. “Environment Canada is forecasting a cold front to move through the Cariboo, Northeast, and parts of southern British Columbia, starting this afternoon and persisting well into the evening and potentially overnight.”
Environment Canada is calling for gusts up to 70 km/hr. “Wind is a tricky thing to forecast ahead of time, so we’re keeping a close eye on it,” Skrepnek adds.
He says 14 new fires were sparked on Friday, which is a lessening in new starts, but there are still a number of significant fires still burning, 14 of which are posing a threat to communities.
There are 27 wildfires of note burning across the province. A province-wide state of emergency was issued a week ago.
3,052 personnel are working under the authority of the BC Wildfire Service, according to Turner, including around 400 from out of the province with 1,000 from the forest industry, and 207 aircraft.
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb has said that crews are making sure routes out of his city are clear and buses are ready to go if an evacuation order issued for the 11,000 people living there.
An evacuation order has been issued to McDermott Creek east to the Fraser River and north to Alexis Creek in the Cariboo region.
Meanwhile, looting has been a problem for police and Surrey RCMP has sent up some officers to help out, but they’ve been encountering thieves dressed like officials.
Staff Sgt. Annie Linetau says they are investigating a report of at least two men who show up to homes near Quesnel, saying they are fire officials trying to get people out of their homes. She says they wore high-visibility vests, but they didn’t have proper ID on them and left the area in a black SUV.
“We can confirm that at this time police are only attending homes in a fire evacuation zone and police conducting evacuation orders are dressed in full police uniform and have police identification as well as the official evacuation order to provide to evacuated residents,” Linteau says.
Three people were arrested near 100 Mile House when they were found possessing break-and-enter tools.
On Saturday afternoon, North Shore Fire Chiefs announced a ban on the use of barbecues in parks and beaches in the District of North Vancouver, District of West Vancouver and City of North Vancouver.
They’re urging the public to call 604-543-6700 to report any unsafe fire activities they witness. You can also dial *5555 on your phone to report a wildfire to the BC Wildfire Service.
For more information on the fire situation and evacuation centres, visit BCWildfire.ca.