July 21, 2024

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As fires rage in British Columbia, more residents are preparing for evacuations

As fires rage in British Columbia, more residents are preparing for evacuations

Aug 20 (Reuters) – A record-breaking wildfire in western Canada’s British Columbia province is expected to drive more people from their homes this week, as firefighters battle wildfires that have destroyed property and closed parts of a major national highway.

The county declared a state of emergency late Friday evening, giving officials more power to deal with fire risks. By Saturday, more than 35,000 residents were under an evacuation order and another 30,000 were on evacuation alert.

The McDougall Creek fire is centered around Kelowna, a city about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Vancouver, with a population of about 150,000. But other fires, exacerbated by severe drought, have been reported near the US border and in the US Pacific Northwest.

Ministers and government officials have urged residents living in areas of evacuation order to take immediate action, in the interest of their lives and the lives of firefighters.

British Columbia Premier Daniel Ibe also imposed a ban on non-essential travel on Saturday, in order to provide accommodations for evacuees and firefighters. The authorities urged people to avoid traveling to firing zones and to operate drones to take pictures, which they said would hinder the firefighters’ work.

Officials have not yet given any estimate of the total number of buildings destroyed.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Canada, but the spread of fires and unrest underscores the intensity of the worst wildfire season yet.

The fires drained local resources and drew federal aid as well as support from 13 countries. At least four firefighters have died in the line of duty.

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About 140,000 square kilometers (54,054 sq mi) of land, roughly the size of New York state, has already been burned across the country, with smog spreading as far as the east coast of the United States. Government officials expect that the fire season may extend into the fall due to widespread drought-like conditions.

A scene shows wildfires in Squilax, British Columbia, Canada on August 18, 2023, in this screenshot obtained from social media video X @AlpineLifer / via REUTERS Acquisition of licensing rights

The sky is on fire

About 2,000km to the north, a wildfire burning out of control in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territory, led to the evacuation of all of its 20,000 residents last week.

For now, the fire is not expected to reach the city limits by the end of the weekend, officials said, as some rain and cooler temperatures help slow its progress.

It’s been an arduous journey, said Krista Phleger, who left town with her two dogs.

“I was afraid of getting caught in the fires that were approaching the road,” she said.

For Fleger, the main concern is whether her house, which is only two years old, will survive.

In British Columbia, the Trans-Canada Highway was closed near Chase, about 400km northeast of Vancouver, Ben Hope, about 150km east of Vancouver, and the village of Lytton. The highway is the main east-west artery used by thousands of motorists and truck drivers heading to Vancouver, the nation’s busiest port.

Kip Lumquist, who works in a gift shop in Craigellachie, a highway tourist spot, said she’s seen a lot of destruction over the past week.

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“It was crazy, we couldn’t see hills, mountains, trees, anything, for maybe two and a half days,” Lumquist said. “I drive a white car, and when I got out to get in my car… it was just black… It’s devastating to the community.”

(Reporting by Denny Thomas). Editing by Kim Coghill

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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