An orange soup of smoke makes driving difficult on Highway 20 west of Williams Lake. (Scott Olesiuk photo)

Wildfires burn 111,000 hectares across B.C.

There have been 617 fires since April 1

There were 188 fires burning across B.C. on Thursday afternoon, up from 183 on Wednesday, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

“Generally [that has] been trending down from where we were over the weekend where there were north of 220 fires across the province,” Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek. Wednesday saw 16 new fires spring up.

Since April 1, the province has spent $66.6 million fighting a total of 617 fires across 111,000 hectares. Annually, B.C. sets aside $63 million to fight wildfires but Skrepnek said that there is never a risk of the province stopping fighting fires just because the preset budget has been exceeded. The priority remains keeping highways that have, and continue to remain, evacuation routes clear and open.

RELATED: Interactive map paints B.C. wildfire picture

The province has 3,100 personnel on the fires, including B.C. firefighters, support workers and out-of-province firefighters, said Skrepnek. Between firefighters, experts and support staff, a total of 392 out-of-province personnel have been brought in. The crews are supported by over 178 aircraft, not counting the Canadian Forces resources.

There have been 230 recreation sites and trails closed in the Cariboo, Skrepnek noted.

“We are encouraging people to stay out of the backcountry,” he said. “The wildfire service is assessing the need to additional closures as a preventative measure.”

RELATED: Recreation sites now closed across Cariboo Fire Centre

There are 16,250 evacuees, said Emergency BC deputy minister Robert Turner. Of those, 9,429 have registered with reception areas and 4,655 are in emergency social services lodgings.

RELATED: Wildfire evacuees frustrated with Red Cross waits

“I know there has been a lot of frustration… there is now a zero wait time for those calling into the Canadian Red Cross to register,” said Turner. The online portal is now up and running.

“By the end of [Thursday], the Red Cross expects that 1,800 families will have received the $600 financial assistance packages being provided by the province through the Red Cross.”

BC Centre for Disease Control Dr. Sarah Henderson said that there has been an “easing of air quality across the province” but that “everyone is cognizant that these situations can change rapidly.”

Henderson said that the CDC is planning launch the BC Asthma prevention system to allow medical health officers to better predict upcoming air quality impacts and smoke concentrations in wildfire zones.

RELATED: Wildfire smoke clearing in B.C.: CDC

While winds have died down since this past weekend, the BC Wildfire Service is worried about a weather system coming in Saturday.

“We are concerned with the forecast for the weekend,” said Skrepnek. “We are looking at some strong and sustained wind.”

The Cariboo should be prepared for lightning strikes this afternoon, he added.

RELATED: Break and enter arrest made in 100 Mile evacuation area

RCMP Sgt. Annie Linteau said that extra officer continue to be deployed in wildfire zones. Police officers from Alberta have now been rotated in to provide relief of B.C. officers. Linteau said that the experience Alberta police gained during the Fort McMurray fires has been invaluable to B.C.’s police.

She confirmed that the RCMP were arrested two “prolific offenders” on July 11. Two search warrants have been carried out as of July 12. A 27-year-old man and 24-year old woman are in custody and could face charges in connection with stolen property found during the searches.

VIDEO: Horgan speaks on B.C.’s wildfires in Kamloops

Speaking on NDP government that will be sworn in on July 18, Turner said that the transition team has been regularly briefed on the wildfire situation.

The fine for having a campfire if there is a ban in place is $1,150. If that contributes to a fire, Skrepnek said, offenders could be liable for the costs of fighting the fire. The ministry continues to investigate allegations that firefighters were seen having a campfire in a no-campfire zone.

As of 2 p.m. July 13, wildfires of note sit at:


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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