Fire evacuees likely to come to Lower Mainland as flames spread across BC

Image via Terry Brown.

More people displaced by wildfires are expected to arrive in the Lower Mainland.

Robert Turner with Emergency Management BC says evacuees will more likely be sent to centres that just opened up in Surrey and Chilliwack, rather than to Prince George or anywhere near there.

“They have not yet received evacuees in Chilliwack or Cloverdale but they are set up as a contingency, if we get another wave of evacuees we will have to start looking at directing people to the Lower Mainland,” he says.

Turner says these centres have plenty of room and the Kamloops evacuation centre is stretching to its limit.

“There are already a large number of evacuees in Prince George, the plan is to go farther south into the Okanagan and Lower Mainland,” Turner says. “To move people by air to Prince George, when they would not have access to their vehicles or what they have brought with them would add another load for them.”

Williams Lake, with a population of 10,000 is the largest single community evacuated to date and an estimated 17,000 people have registered with the Red Cross, 80% of those have been helped.

An estimated 28,700 people have evacuated the Cariboo Regional District and Turner says 60% of the 10,000 people in Williams Lake “self evacuated” before the order came down.

Over 36,000 people have been forced from their homes in total.

Speaking on the phone from Williams Lake, Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek says just over $81 million has been spent fighting fires this season.

He says 16 new fires broke out on Saturday, bringing the total up to 641 this summer, burning over 131,000 hectares.

There are over 160 fires burning right now, 27 fires of note, 15 of those are posing a threat to communities.

Skrepnek says crews will remain at the Cariboo Fire Centre command at the airport as long as it remains safe. Emergency operations are still staffed in the city. He admits some firefighters had to be pulled out for safety.

Ashcroft fire saw major growth over the last 24 hours, over 42,000 hectares, their largest fire currently burning. There is also a fire burning in Lake Country near Kelowna.

24 helicopters are in the air with 203 aircraft supporting ground crews, including seven aircraft from Alberta and two from Saskatchewan.

“The weather outlook today suggests that we have a challenging period ahead of us,” Skrepnek admits. “Temperatures are cooler, a little bit more humid out there, we actually had a sprinkle of rain out here at the Williams Lake airport for a few minutes, it didn’t last long unfortunately. As it has been for the last week, wind is going to continue to be a challenge, we expect another windy day, not to the extent of yesterday, but gusting up to 35-40 km/hr.”

Skrepnek adds that the wind and hazy smoke are going to hamper air operations.

Forests Minister John Rustad says 2,900 people on the fires, including 415 from out of province, 928 contractors.

Rustad adds they did lose one helicopter that crashed Saturday night and the pilot was injured. “The good news is, he’s in stable condition,” Rustad says.

Skrepnek says the chopper crashed in the Chilcotin area working on fires west of Williams Lake around Alexis Creek, though he doesn’t know what led to the crash.

He says the EC130 helicopter with the JB Air helicopter company and they have contacted the Transportation Safety Board, but will not be investigating.

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