Smoky Conditions Persists as Wildfire Rages in B.C.

Another hot, dry and smoky day is expected in much of B.C. as hundreds of wildfires burn throughout the province.

Approximately 299 wildfires are burning in B.C. as of Monday afternoon, including four that were discovered on Sunday.

The Sparks Lake wildfire north of Kamloops remains the largest fire in the province. As of Sunday afternoon, it was about 450 square kilometres in size. Nearly 300 properties have been ordered to evacuate as a result of that fire, and hundreds more remain on alert.

Thompson-Nicola Regional District chair Ken Gillis said a shortage of security personnel and a great need for support at emergency operations centres have left staff fatigued.

“Everybody’s exhausted,” he said. “We’re desperate for help but we aren’t getting any.”

He said they’ve asked for more resources from Emergency Management B.C. and hopes more RCMP officers will be made available to help with wildfire evacuees. He also hopes military support will arrive.

In 100 Mile House, security guards have been hired to keep an eye on the community.

Security guard Albert Smith said looters moved into evacuated communities in 2017.

“As soon as the people left, the looters came in and started going through peoples’ houses and stealing whatever they could get, because they didn’t have any security then,” he said.

The RCMP says it will continue to deploy additional officers to areas that have been evacuated or have been put on evacuation alert. In particular, police officers are able to put up roadblocks so no one can get into the area, and police patrols are conducted in the evacuated area to deter looting and other crimes when no one is around.

“To date, we have no reports of theft or property crime incidents within any of the evacuated areas,” RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts said.

Evacuations

On Sunday, officials asked residents leaving their homes because of smoke to stay with friends or family, in order to leave hotel rooms free for wildfire evacuees with “no other option,” as accommodations in the Thompson-Okanagan region are limited.

“All the facilities in Kamloops are full, all the facilities in Merritt are full,” Mr. Gillis said.

Hundreds of people across the province have been ordered to evacuate their homes.

Meanwhile, the B.C. SPCA is hoping to free up space in its centres for evacuees’ pets by holding a half-price pet adoption promotion on July 20-30.

The society says it has provided free emergency boarding for more than 80 animals in its shelters and at the Animal Evacuation Centre, set up in Kamloops on July 7, since the wildfire season began.

Dry, smoky conditions

While skies in B.C.’s Lower Mainland are relatively clear and bright, smoke from the wildfires has blanketed most of the province.

In fact, most of Canada is sitting beneath wildfire smoke, as fires in the Prairies and northern Ontario have added to the haze.

Michelle Obre, who lives in 140 Mile House just off Highway 97, left her home in 2017 as a result of wildfires. While she wasn’t ordered to evacuate, she said the smoke was so heavy she didn’t feel like she could stay.

Although her home is relatively safe so far this year, she says, the smoke is so bad her four-year-old grandson can’t play outside and her daughter has a bag packed in case they have to leave at a moment’s notice.

Her mother, who lives in Lillooet, has had a bag packed for weeks, as the Mckay Creek fire discovered three weeks ago continues to grow.

She said the situation is extremely stressful, and usually, she would take a walk in nature to decompress — but right now it’s so tinder-dry she’s not comfortable walking through her property.

“I live in the forest and I won’t even go in there right now,” she said. “Everything’s brown.”

The southern half of the province got no rain over the weekend, and conditions remain hot and dry.

Thunderstorms are forecast for central and northern B.C. on Monday afternoon.


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