First Nations evacuated as B.C. wildfires rage

First Nations evacuated as B.C. wildfires rage

05 August 2010

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Canada — With hundreds of wildfires burning across British Columbia, residents of nine First Nation communities have become the latest evacuees.

An evacuation order came into effect Wednesday night for the reserves of the Tl’etinqox-t’in (Anaham) First Nations in the Cariboo region.

“Things are very serious in our community,” wrote band administrator Angela Alphonse in an e-mail.

“With the weather not calling for torrential rains anytime soon, things do not bode well.”

Evacuees were asked to go to the nearest urban centre, Williams Lake, located 120 kilometres southeast of the reserves. Williams Lake is about 500 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

Most fires are concentrated in the Kamloops, Cariboo and northwest areas of B.C.

On Thursday, the number of active blazes held steady around 400, said B.C. fire information officer Gwen Eamer.

“I know that number doesn’t sound good, but we’ve been getting about 40 to 50 new fires everyday, so the fact we are holding steady at 400 is decent,” Eamer said.

But with “volatile” fire activity in the Cariboo region, the total number of hectares of provincial forests burned jumped to 93,350 hectares from 77,500 on Tuesday, she added.

In Vancouver, an air quality advisory remains in effect. Smoke and soot have been descending into the city from blazes in the province’s Interior region.

Elevated levels of fine soot have been detected at air-quality monitoring stations throughout the region. The worst readings are in Hope, Chilliwack and Abbotsford, the advisory says.

Residents were being advised to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and be careful that infants, the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions such as lung or heart disease, are not exposed.

With a few scattered showers expected Friday and Saturday in the worst affected areas, fire officials are hoping for a reprieve.

“But with showers also comes the potential for more lightning,” Eamer said. “So we are kind of planning for the worst (and) hoping for the best.”

Approximately 4,000 people are battling the provincewide blazes, but Eamer said the public also needs to do their bit to prevent wildfires from spreading.

“Two new fires that we fought overnight were caused by people,” she said, although she couldn’t say if they were caused by campfires. “At the very least, they weren’t natural fires. They were preventable and they are diverting resources from the other fires.”

Eamer said human-caused fires tend to be more expensive to put out.

That added cost is problematic as B.C. has already burned through its yearly forest fire budget, having spent $56.6 million to date on firefighting, above the $52-million firefighting budget for 2010.

“We’re going to spend what we need and overshooting the budget doesn’t impact the way we fight fires,” Eamer said.

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