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A member of the B.C. Wildfire Columbia Unit Crew (bottom left) uses a hose to wet down an area of ‘green’ on the outside of the machine-built fire guard while embers rain down from a planned ignition on a wildfire burning near Vanderhoof, B.C.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

Canada’s record-breaking wildfire season continues to intensify with dozens of new fires erupting in drought-stricken British Columbia, triggering more evacuation orders, sending smoke south of the border and claiming the life of another firefighter, this time in the Northwest Territories.

With provincial and local resources stretched thin, the federal government has mobilized the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Coast Guard who are expected to be on the ground Monday to support the firefighting effort and help evacuate people from isolated communities.

They will work alongside approximately 2,000 BC Wildfire Service personnel across the province.

About 100,000 square kilometres of land has been scorched across the country – roughly the size of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake Michigan combined, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) – surpassing the previous record of 76,000 square kilometres set in 1989.

Two firefighters have died while battling wildfires in the past week. Nineteen-year-old Devyn Gale died Thursday from a falling tree near her hometown of Revelstoke, B.C.

On Saturday, a firefighter from Fort Liard, N.W.T., was fatally injured in the Fort Liard District.

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and community. We share your deep sorrow at this loss,” Wildfire Information Officer Jessica Davey-Quantick said in a statement Sunday. The firefighter’s identity and the exact circumstances of their death were not disclosed.

Based on forecasts, Natural Resources Canada expects the wildfire season will continue to be unusually intense throughout July and into August.

There were nearly 900 active wildfires nationwide Sunday, and about two thirds were deemed out of control. B.C. was the most affected province, with dozens of new fires erupting over the weekend.

The province requested federal support and additional international help. An Australian incident management team and a crew of approximately 40 American firefighters arrived this weekend, BC Wildfire Services spokesperson Sarah Budd said.

Video provided to The Globe by Lance Lauze shows wildfire near his resort in Vanderhoof, B.C., on July 12.

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Department of National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said an Immediate Response Unit would assist in firefighting in B.C. The Canadian Armed Forces are also ready to provide aircraft for logistical tasks and evacuations, including two CH-146 Griffon helicopters and one CC-130J Hercules, she said.

The Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness said two Canadian Armed Forces reconnaissance teams were deployed on Sunday, and were expected to assess the situation and inform resource deployment plans for further federal resources.

Additional requests from the province such as staging areas and maritime support are being addressed by other departments, including Transport Canada, the RCMP and the Canadian Coast Guard, said Annie Cullinan, a spokesperson for Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair’s office.

B.C. Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness spokesperson Krystal Thomson said approximately 242 people were under an evacuation order and 3,392 people under an evacuation alert in the northeast, northwest and Cariboo regions of the province as of Saturday afternoon.

  • B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter Kurt Wandler waits for his colleague Charlie Helton during a planned ignition on a wildfire burning near Vanderhoof, B.C.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

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Lance Lauze, the owner of a wilderness resort about 80 kilometres south of Vanderhoof, B.C., is one of those under an evacuation order. He said it’s a miracle he and his business are still standing after the 270-hectare Finger Lakes wildfire came within metres of his resort on Wednesday.

Only the combined efforts of him and a 10-person firefighting team kept his cabins standing. Everything else was scorched.

“We’re like an oasis here. It’s a complete moonscape all around me,” he said in a phone interview Sunday. He said even if there wasn’t an evacuation order in place, the unbearably thick wildfire smoke would stop him from staying.

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Lance Lauze, the owner of the Tatuk Lake Lodge outside Vanderhoof, B.C., leaves his shed with a sprinkler system set up to protect it from a wildfire burning nearby. Lauze says if it weren’t for the sprinkler system and the firefighters who set it up (and then got trapped by the blaze and helped battle spot fires) the whole property likely would have burned.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Lauze said they’ve had to deal with an increasing number of wildfire alerts and orders in the last six years, but that nothing has ever gotten as close to burning his business to the ground as the current situation.

He’s not alone. The province’s online emergency map showed 76 evacuation orders and alerts owing to wildfires were issued by the regional districts of Bulkley-Nechako, Cariboo, Central Coast, Fraser-Fort George, Kitimat-Stikine, Peace River and Squamish-Lillooet, along with the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, the Stikine Region, the Takla, Tl’azt’en and Lhoosk’uz Dené nations, and the Yekooche and Nadleh Whut’en First Nations.

Severe thunderstorm watches were issued Sunday for parts of central and northeastern B.C.

Environment Canada meteorologist Johnson Zhong said heavy downpours from the storms could help extinguish fires, but lightning could also ignite new blazes in the region before sunny and warm weather returns Tuesday.

The precipitations won’t be significant enough to alleviate current drought conditions, Ms. Budd of BC Wildfire Service said.

Last week, the province ordered the oil and gas industry to temporarily stop diverting water to operations in watersheds in the northeast district, and said they were considering banning water use by other industries such as agriculture in other parts of the province.

Provincial officials said they were also working with municipalities, regional districts and First Nations to escalate restrictions on personal water usage as more than two thirds of the province’s rivers were experiencing high to extreme levels of drought.

The BC Wildfire Service says lighting is trigging new fires with 1.2-million hectares already burned so far this year. There's little reprieve expected over the next 10 days with the weather forecast to stay hot and dry.

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Environment Canada maintained a special air-quality statement over most of B.C. Sunday, except the coast, warning of poor air quality and reduced visibility owing to wildfire smoke.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also posted air-quality alerts for several states stretching from Montana to Ohio on Sunday because smoke was once again blowing in from Canadian wildfires.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said Sunday that unhealthy air from the wildfires in Canada was expected to hit parts of her state again Monday.

With reports from The Canadian Press and the Associated Press

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