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Elephant Hill wildfire balloons to 168,000 hectares

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The Elephant Hill wildfire, which started south of Ashcroft on July 6, has expanded to 168,092 hectares as of 11 a.m. on Tuesday, August 15. Most of the recent expansion has been on the north and northeast sections of the fire, with significant growth toward Green Lake. The fire has also reached Young Lake.

The fire is officially listed as out of control.

On August 12 a new Evacuation Order was issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) for properties in the Bonaparte and Criss Creek areas due to the Elephant Hill fire. The affected area stretches north from the west end of Kamloops Lake, north of Savona (Savona itself is not under Evacuation Order or Alert).

Crews are in the process of trying to get into the areas where the fire expanded over the weekend of August 12. In order to do that, they are working with BC Hydro to get power lines in the area de-energized and the trees removed from near the road in order to access areas impacted by the fire.

Once crews can get into these areas, inventories will be completed and information will be sent to the Regional District, which will then contact property owners to inform them of the fire's impact on their properties.

On August 9, progress made on the northwest flank of the Elephant Hill fire resulted in the rescinding of the Evacuation Order for properties along the Highway 97 corridor between Chasm and 70 Mile House.

Highway 97 will be open through the 70 Mile area southbound to Chasm for local traffic only. Highway 97 remains closed in both directions at Chasm, so traffic will not be permitted from Cache Creek or Clinton through to Chasm, as the fire continues to be of threat in those areas.

Contrary to rumour, employees of the Chasm mill who live south of Chasm cannot get passes to allow them through to the mill site.

Although the Evacuation Order has been rescinded, an Evacuation Alert remains for these properties, and residents are reminded that they need to be prepared to evacuate immediately if necessary due to changing fire conditions.

When the Evacuation Orders were issued for these properties, residents were directed to leave refrigerators and freezers on. The TNRD has not been advised of any power outages occurring in these areas while the Evacuation Order was in place.

A re-entry package is available on the TNRD website (www.tnrd.ca) for any resident returning to their home following an Evacuation Order. The link to the package of information is available at www.tnrd.ca/content/general-information.

In the south near Highway 99, there was a relatively good news story over the weekend, says fire information officer Noelle Kekula.

"It held within its borders. We actually have one small little burn proposed for that area just to clean off one more small portion of it, and that one is looking really good."

As of the time of writing on August 15, the fire had not jumped Highway 99.

The B.C. NDP government is being called on to do more to help the ranchers affected by a back burn that went wrong on August 1, and tell them they will receive compensation for any damage due to back burns.

"This is not about assigning blame, it is about accepting responsibility," says John Rustad, the BC Liberal critic for Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. "This is an extraordinary time in British Columbia and the forests minister, Doug Donaldson, shouldn't be hiding behind how things used to be done. They can take the weight off the shoulders of these families by saying financial assistance will be coming."

Back burns are an accepted tool in the BC Forest Service tool box, but this year there have been unexpected problems, particularly around the Clinton area, where a back burn did not go as planned and caused extensive damage. Residents are concerned about the lingering effect.

"The families who have been directly impacted by these back burns will be dealing with these issues for months if not years," says Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart. "This is their land and their livelihood and they're rightly worried. What they don't need is to also worry about the financial impact. Premier Horgan said he'd be there for people. It's time for him to actually do it."

A news release from the Ministry of Agriculture says that the B.C. government is continuing to work with the Government of Canada to ensure B.C. ranchers have access to either existing or new programs as part of the overall response to the devastating wildfires in the province's Interior.

B.C. ranchers have an estimated 30,000 animals within the boundaries of the wildfire-affected areas. The number of confirmed livestock injuries and losses is not available yet, as the ongoing emergency response continues. Once the information is available, the B.C. government will work quickly with industry stakeholders to develop a fair and timely response.

While recognizing that, given the scope of the wildfires, additional programs will likely be needed, the B.C. government is encouraging ranchers and crop producers to look at the existing federal and provincial government insurance and income protection programs that are available today.

It is estimated that more than 500 ranchers have already received support and information through the wildfire emergency response. The Ministry of Agriculture continues to be in close contact with the BC Cattlemen's Association, and remains committed to hearing directly from ranchers with their concerns, so the ministry can connect them with the support and services they need.

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