Residents in more areas of British Columbia have been forced from their homes indefinitely, this time by wildfires whipped up by strong winds in the southeastern part of the province.
Officials were set to give an update on the situation Thursday afternoon that has forced more than 4,000 properties evacuated.
Among the 268 blazes challenging firefighters across the province, a fire that destroyed the village of Lytton three weeks ago is now threatening the community of Spences Bridge.
An evacuation order issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District for 169 properties Thursday encouraged those fleeing to stay with friends and family, or to head more than 200 kilometres away to Chilliwack for emergency support.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay has ordered more than 170 properties evacuated along a 10-kilometre strip of the Slocan River north of Appledale, near the western flank of the two-week old Trozzo wildfire.
The BC Wildfire Service blames the “aggressive behaviour” of the 26-square kilometre wildfire fire on powerful winds that also fuelled other large nearby fires, forcing expansion of evacuation orders to cover a total of 356 properties – including the communities of Needles and Edgewood, on Lower Arrow Lake.
In the central Interior, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued evacuation orders for more than 100 properties threatened by separate wildfires north of Kamloops and Lillooet, but there’s some positive news in the south Okanagan from the Nk’Mip wildfire that has charred more than 20 square kilometres of bush.
The Osoyoos Indian Band has partially lifted an evacuation order, allowing residents of 176 properties to go home, but they must be ready to leave on short notice because the wildfire is still out of control and other evacuation orders and alerts are still in place.
A statement from the Forests Ministry says 277 active wildfires are burning in B.C., with 4,351 properties on evacuation order and thousands more on alert.
Aggravating the fire situation are drought and water shortages affecting the southern half of the province, thanks to little or no rainfall over the past five weeks and no relief in sight.
Freshwater fishing is already closed in many areas due to the added stress to fish from low flows and high water temperatures, while the provincial government also urged residents to conserve water.
Adverse impacts are likely on people, fish and ecosystems in several areas that are already under Drought Level 4 restrictions, which are the second-most severe on B.C.’s scale of five.
The areas covered include the Salmon, Coldwater and Nicola rivers in the Thompson-Okanagan; the Kettle River, Lower Columbia Basin and West Kootenay Basin; as well as the Eastern Vancouver Island Basin and Gulf Islands.
All water users in affected areas need to reduce their water use wherever possible and observe all local restrictions, the statement says.
If conservation goals aren’t met and drought conditions worsen, temporary protection orders under the Water Sustainability Act may be issued to water licensees, to avoid significant or irreversible harm to aquatic ecosystems, it says.
“Provincial staff are actively monitoring the situation and working to balance water uses with environmental flow needs.”
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