Northwest News

While we deal with smoke, B.C. battles fires that have burned 1.2 million acres

A house that survived a wildfire is framed by burnt trees in Williams Lake, British Columbia on Monday. The wildfires burning in British Columbia’s interior are among the worst in more than six decades.
A house that survived a wildfire is framed by burnt trees in Williams Lake, British Columbia on Monday. The wildfires burning in British Columbia’s interior are among the worst in more than six decades. The Canadian Press via AP

The wildfires burning in British Columbia’s interior are among the worst in more than six decades and have sent a haze of smoke over the Pacific Northwest.

As of Thursday, 1.2 million acres of forest, bush and grassland had been ravaged by fire, making it the second most destructive wildfire season on record in B.C.

That landmass is larger than Olympic National Park and is the equivalent of 23 Seattles.

According to Kevin Skrepnek of the B.C. Wildfire Service, things could still get worse.

“I think it’s important for everyone to remember we are only in early August at this point,” Skrepnek told reporters Thursday, noting that August is usually the busiest summer month for fires.

B.C. first started keeping fire statistics in 1950. The most devastating wildfire season in the province’s history was in 1958, when 2.1 million acres burned.

As of Friday, there were 122 wildfires of varying size burning across B.C.

Still 25 evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 7,000 residents, and 42 evacuation alerts were in place for nearly 25,000 residents.

On Friday, B.C.’s provincial state of emergency was also extended through to the end of Aug. 18. It is the second time the state of emergency, first declared July 7, has been extended.

Officials also banned off-road vehicles from going into federal land in the B.C. interior, in an effort to prevent any further fires from sparking.

“It’s crucial that we do everything we can to prevent human-caused wildfires,” said B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson, in a news release.

“Temporarily removing off-road vehicles from the backcountry is another component of our wildfire prevention strategy.”

To date, firefighting efforts have cost CA$204 million ($161 million U.S.), which is already considered low compared to previous seasons due to 2017’s late season start.

Firefighters from Mexico and from across Canada have already arrived in B.C. to assist, and logistics are being worked out to bring crews from Australia and New Zealand next week.

With files from Canadian Press

Stephanie Ip: sip@postmedia.com, twitter.com/stephanie_ip

  Comments