Canada is sending armed forces to tackle the fast-spreading wildfires in British Columbia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday, as the western province deals with dry and windy conditions that have displaced more than 35,000 people evacuation.
The province imposed a state of emergency late Friday, giving officials more power to deal with fire risks. By Saturday, more than 35,000 residents had been ordered to evacuate 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, aggravated by severe drought, have been reported near the US border and in the US Pacific Northwest.
Ministers and government officials urged residents living in areas with evacuation orders to act immediately in the interest of their own lives and those of firefighters.
British Columbia Prime Minister David Eby also imposed a ban on non-essential travel on Saturday to free up accommodation for evacuees and firefighters. Authorities urged people to avoid going to the fire area and use drones to take pictures, which they say would hinder firefighters’ work.
Officials have not yet released an estimate of the total number of buildings destroyed.
Trudeau said in a tweet that the federal government has agreed to send the support requested from the BC government.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Canada but the spread of the fires and the disruption shows the severity of the worst wildfire season in the country.
The fires have depleted local resources and drawn federal government assistance and assistance from 13 countries. At least four firefighters died in the line of duty.
About 140,000 square kilometers (54,054 sq mi) of land, roughly the size of New York state, has burned across the country, with the haze extending as far as the East Coast of the United States. Government officials predict that the fire season could extend into the fall due to widespread drought-like conditions.
THE SKY ON FIRE
About 2,000 kilometers to the north, an out-of-control wildfire in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, forced the evacuation of nearly all of the region’s 20,000 residents last week.
For now, the blaze is not expected to spread to city limits over the weekend, with some rain and cooler temperatures helping to slow its progress, officials said.
Krista Flesjer, who evacuated the city with her dogs, said it was a tough ride.
“I was afraid of being caught in a fire that was burning in the street,” she said.
For Flesjer, the main worry is whether her two-year-old new home will survive.
In BC, the TransCanada Highway was closed near Chase, about 400 kilometers northeast of Vancouver, and between Hope, 150 kilometers east of Vancouver, and the village of Lytton. The highway is a major east-west artery used by thousands of car and truck drivers heading to Vancouver, the country’s busiest port.
Kip Lumquist, who works at a gift shop in Craigellachie, a highway tourist spot, said she’s seen a lot of devastation over the past week.
“It was crazy. We couldn’t see hills, mountains, trees, anything, maybe (for) two and a half days,” Lumquist said. “I drive a white car, and when I step out to get in my car… it’s just black. … It devastates the community.”