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Evacuations slow as B.C. welcomes out-of-province firefighters to help

Extra support helps boost morale, allows firefighters to take much-needed breaks for their health

Emergency response staff who are charged with supporting residents threatened by some of British Columbia’s largest wildfires paused for a breath Monday following several turbulent days.

Debbie Sell, information officer for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District’s emergency operations centre, said evacuation alerts and orders remained generally static, indicating the fires hadn’t moved closer to residential areas.

“I’m happy to report that it has been relatively quiet this morning in the emergency operations centre, meaning that it hasn’t been necessary to expand orders and alerts,” Sell said Monday.

The break has been a relief, but of course staff know it can easily ramp up again, she said.

“It kind of goes in fits and starts, as the fires tick off then of course we need to get people out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.”

The centre is managing an area that includes Lytton, B.C., which was razed by a wildfire last week after three days of record-setting heat, as well as four other major wildfires still considered out of control. It’s one of several co-ordinating bodies stickhandling the response to what is shaping up to be another active wildfire season in British Columbia.

Firefighting teams from Quebec and New Brunswick were set to arrive in B.C. on Monday to assist with the devastating blazes.

The nearly 100 out-of-province members must pass COVID-19 safety checks before being sent into the field, the BC Wildfire Service said.

Provincial fire information officer Jean Strong said the extra support will not only help boost morale, but allow firefighters to take much-needed breaks for their health.

“It’s certainly a relief to know that help is on the way,” she said.

Public Safety Canada has also committed the Armed Forces for airlift support to carry crews, supplies and equipment in and out of fire zones and to assist with emergency evacuations if needed, it said.

The wildfire service says 199 active wildfires were burning in B.C. as of Monday afternoon, with at least 46 sparked in the past two days. There are 13 fires considered “wildfires of note.”

Evacuation orders are in place forfive of those wildfires, including one near Lytton that continues to burn. The fire covered 76 square kilometres but didn’t grow significantly on Sunday or Monday.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District is co-ordinating a bus tour for Lytton residents who wish to survey the damage, but a date has not been set while the risk remains high.

“It’s still not safe to go through that area,” Sell said.

Investigators believe the fire was human-caused but won’t be able to confirm that until the investigation is complete, Strong said.

Separate fires north of Kamloops and east of 100 Mile House have also forced hundreds of people from their homes and prompted evacuation alerts for hundreds more. The largest one, known as the Sparks Lake fire, has scorched 363 square kilometres and has not yet been contained.

North of Lillooet, firefighting crews managed to completed some guards along the edge of a 260-square-kilometre blaze but it remains out of control. Although it was initially aggravated by aggressive winds, they had died down by Monday, Strong said.

“Over the last few days we did get a little bit of a helping hand in some areas due to weather,” she said.

Another set of crews were planning a controlled burn using helicopters and hand ignition Monday near a smaller fire at Deka Lake to remove fuel at the fire’s edge.

Despite the progress, a non-profit agency that co-ordinates interprovincial aid and resources has warned more difficult days lie ahead in B.C.

“Anticipating multiple fire starts each day over the next (three) days,” says the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in its report issued Sunday.

Environment Canada is maintaining heat warnings of up to 35 C during the day for several B.C. regions, including areas where many of the most threatening wildfires continue to burn

Lightning was in Monday’s forecast for many of the at-risk regions, with a chance of showers.

— By Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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