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40,000 BC wildfire evacuees plus 10,000 more on alert

<p>Photo Marianne Wall</p> -

Photo Marianne Wall

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High winds

Fires became very aggressive in many places on the weekend as a result of wind gusts from the low front over the region. A resultant significant increase in fire activity expanded evacuation orders and alerts.

Crews had to pull out of some areas because of the high winds, but made progress in other areas. Since then winds have been heavy but not as bad as they were. Additional firefighting crews from outside the province are joining exisiting efforts.

Williams Lake

On Saturday, July 15, Williams Lake was put on Evacuation Order. It was done without incident, yet still very trying for those impacted as the only road open was packed steady through till midnight. Several fires remain outside of Williams Lake and are not imminently threatening, however many power lines leading into the community were damaged or destroyed.

The majority of Williams Lake evacuees have been directed south via 100 Mile, then east to Little Fort, proceeding south to Kamloops with the overflow making their way to the lower mainland.

More evacuees

The newest wave of evacuees from Williams Lake and elsewhere began arriving at various centres late Saturday and all through Sunday. "Resiliency Centre Sites," said BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone, "Are busy but seem to be providing what's needed." Emergency social services have been activated and contingency plans are in place should more evacuations be required. Emergency Management BC is organizing additional overflow lodging in neighbouring cities.

It's estimated close to 40,000 people have evacuated and another 10,000 are on evacuation alert. In 2003 there were 50,000 people evacuated. The big difference this time is the number of communities spread over such a large area.

8,000 evacuees are already settled in Prince George, 13,000 new evacuees are headed elsewhere. Some to Lillooet, some to Barriere, many south to Kamloops and beyond. Thousands of dispaced residents are also headed to reception centres in Merrit, Vernon, Kelowna, Pentiction, Chilliwack, Surrey and to stay with relatives and friends all over.

It's not just people being evacuated. The Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team is helping out as well.

Registration

As of Sunday morning 5,100 households had registered with Red Cross. "Registration was happening at a rate of about 5 per minute with a peak flow of 30 per minute. Initial assistance [$600 cash via electronic transfer] has already been actioned for [83%] of families that have registered. The funds are intended to provide a little more support for those who need it," said Minister John Rustad, speaking as Minister of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations up until July 18.

Wildfire stats

As of Sunday July 16, 162 fires were burning across the province with 16 new starts on Saturday. To date 641 fires have burned an estimated 131,000 ha of land. There are 27 fires of note and 15 interface fires close to communities. Initial attack crews have been very effective in many areas making sure new starts are contained or put out. There are 2,900 people on the fire, 415 from outside B.C., 928 contractors, 203 aircraft supporting ground crews, and hundreds of ground equipment deployed fighting the fires, all costing $180 Million so far.

"Thank you for the patience of everyone who has been impacted by these fires. Evacuees, those on alerts, people in the receiving communities, business owners and many others have been great. The volunteers and those who have donated in various ways are truly amazing. We live in such a great province and country," said Minister John Rustad.

PRINCE GEORGE FIRE CENTRE

Local lightening-caused wildfires

Sutherland Road 10 km north of Fort Fraser, the closest wildfire to Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof and Fort St. James. 1,590 ha, 80% contained. No significant growth, yet still classified "Out of Control". Despite winds, good progress was made on the weekend. Crews alongside heavy equipment continue to make guard around the fire. Resources: 77 firefighters, 1 helicopter, 12 heavy equipment.

Big Bend Creek 75 km southwest of Vanderhoof on the Kluskus FSR. 2,062 ha, 0% contained. No significant growth, heavy equipment created guard over night. 'Out of Control' status as crews continue to work on establishing containment lines around the fire. Resources: 30 firefighters, 2 helicopters, 14 heavy equipment.

Tatelkuz Lake 118 km southwest of Vanderhoof on the Kluskus Forest Service Road (FSR), 1,270 ha, 30% contained. No significant growth. Machine guard is complete, but still lots of work for hand crews. Crews conducted successful burn off operations to help with guard and containment lines. Resources: 23 firefighters, 2 helicopters, 6 heavy equipment.

CARIBOO FIRE CENTRE

White Lake northwest of Williams Lake jumped the Fraser River but is still a number of kms away from the city. 3,800 ha, 60% contained.

Hanceville 60 km southwest of Williams Lake, 45,000 ha, 0% contained. Numerous fires over a large area 25 km x 40 km. Interface Fire.

Tautri 80 km northwest of Williams Lake: 40,000 ha, 0% contained, 0% contained.

Loon Lake near Clinton continues to move north.

Gustafsen 5,650 ha 20% contained.

KAMLOOPS FIRE CENTRE

Ashcroft 42,300 ha, 0% contained. Suspected human cause under investigation. Dramatic growth from 14,700 ha to 42,000 ha on Saturday.

Princeton 3,278 ha, 40% contained.

Thuya Lake 4km southwest of Little Fort: 507 ha, 40% contained. Some growth with containment lines holding. Interface Fire; Evacuation Order is in effect.

Okanagan north of Kelowna: 55 ha, 50% contained with retardant around 80% of it. Interface Fire; Evacuation alerts, orders in place. Cause under investigation. Resources: 17 firefighters.

- Wildfire stats, status as of going to press Sunday July 16, sourced from bcfireinfo.for.gov.bc.ca and BC Government conference call on Sunday

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