Time-lapse video from a webcam in Kelowna, B.C. shows large smoke clouds from a wildfire approaching the city on August 17 and 18. Footage courtesy KelownaNow.
The Globe and Mail
Residents across British Columbia, from the blistering Okanagan and Fraser Canyon to the furthest northeast corner, are being warned to have a bag packed as emergency preparedness officials warn of extreme fire conditions in the province this week.
An overnight news release from the Central Okanagan Emergency Operation Centre says officials have confirmed some structural loss, and a full assessment of the affected areas will be done in the morning.
On Thursday, the City of West Kelowna and the nearby Westbank First Nation declared local states of emergency because of wildfire threats. Central Okanagan Emergency Operations placed some 6,600 properties on evacuation alert and another 831 properties were ordered evacuated owing to the nearby McDougall Creek wildfire.
Wildfire crews across the province were bracing for a cold front from the northwest on Thursday that would meet a ridge of high-pressure air sitting over B.C. that has caused record-breaking temperatures and dry winds. The BC Wildfire Service has said this will create even stronger winds, dry lightning and a greater potential for new fire starts.
“If ever there was a time to make sure you have an evacuation plan for your house and your family, it’s now. If ever there was a time to make sure you have a grab-and-go bag, it is now,” Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for the BC Wildfire Service, said at a news conference Thursday. “We recognize that across the province, at times, people have not adhered to evacuation orders. I want to stress now is not the time to not adhere to evacuation orders and alerts.”
Mr. Chapman said fire crews are expecting significant growth of flames and for their resources to be challenged from north to south over the next 48 hours. He said the southern half of the province is most at risk as a result of the coming weather because of dry conditions in that area for the past few weeks. But he said the north, too, is vulnerable.
“This weather event has the potential to be the most challenging 24 to 48 hours of this summer from a fire perspective,” he said.
Mr. Chapman and Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s Emergency Management Minister, urged residents to have an emergency plan and a grab-and-go kit ready.
Ms. Ma encouraged people living in high-risk areas to reach out to family and friends who may be able to provide shelter in other areas of the province.
She also urged event and music-festival organizers to have emergency plans in place should a wildfire encroach, and to work with local and First Nations authorities.
“It is incredibly important that local authorities not be surprised by the presence of hundreds or thousands of additional visitors in their region during an emergency situation,” she said.
Earlier this month, a wildfire sparked by an all-terrain vehicle forced the evacuation of 1,000 participants from the Under the Stars music festival as flames burned nearby, west of Princeton.
There were approximately 480 people under an evacuation order in B.C. as of Thursday morning and more than 4,900 people on evacuation alert, according to Ms. Ma.
Mr. Chapman said B.C. currently has 3,400 people fighting fires across the province, a slight drop from last week’s numbers primarily owing to contract expirations of international resources.
B.C. Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said the province looks forward to welcoming additional incoming firefighters from Ontario, Eastern Canada and Mexico.
Ms. Ma said the Northwest Territories has requested assistance from B.C. and Alberta with evacuating health care patients. The province is expected to receive approximately 55 hospital patients and care home residents with potentially more to come.
Kelowna, B.C. is under a state of emergency as a large wildfire nears the city. Footage from August 17 shows a huge volume of smoke and flames from the McDougall Creek wildfire cresting a mountain near West Kelowna.
Ben Stewart, MLA for West Kelowna, said he woke up Thursday to find “thick debris and ash covering everything” outside his West Kelowna home. The smoke worsened as the day went on, he said.
“It’s probably going to get worse this afternoon depending on the winds.”
He said he was most worried about those who live close to the fire, pointing out recently built schools and neighbourhoods.
“You never really think about it until all of a sudden, you know, it’s at your doorstep,” he said, adding that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if more residents were ordered to leave.
With a report from The Canadian Press
Emergency resources for B.C. residents
- B.C. residents who require emergency support services can register here. Emergency evacuee guidance can be found here.
- The latest news, including notices, alerts, and orders, can be found here.
- Residents can request up-to-date information here. Report smoke or fire by calling 1-800-663-5555
- Visit your local authority or First Nations' website for regional information.