Wildfire smoke forces hospitals, merchants to lock doors

Wildfire smoke forces hospitals, merchants to lock doors

19 August 2010

published by www.theglobeandmail.com

Canada — Smoke from wildfires wreaked havoc across British Columbia on Thursday, forcing hospitals to lock their doors and merchants to shutter their shops.

Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake is asking visitors to stay away to keep smoke out of the building. Doors to the emergency room and the main entrance are locked and only emergency or pre-scheduled patients will be allowed in. Elective surgeries have also been postponed.

“You can smell the smoke and you can feel your eyes burning from the smoke,” said Interior Health spokeswoman Erin Toews.

A change in wind patterns also pushed smoke from the Cariboo wildfires south to Kamloops, prompting store owners to close their doors and windows.

“You literally could see the plume of smoke approaching,” said provincial air quality meteorologist Ralph Adams.

An Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Kamloops was delayed Thursday morning when it could not land due to poor visibility, said airport operations manager Ed Ratuski. Six more Air Canada Jazz flights were halted from coming or going later during the day.

The airport is asking travellers and those expecting flights to check with its website to determine if flights are delayed.

The smoke is just a symptom of the taxing conditions fire crews faced on Thursday as 78 per cent of British Columbia was at high to extreme risk of fire danger.

“We are looking at active growth on all of our fires,” said fire information officer Gwen Eamer. The flames were fuelled by a cold front that brought gusting winds up to 40 kilometres an hour in the fire-ravaged northern and central region overnight on Wednesday.

One section of the Pelican Complex fire in the Cariboo region devoured 15 kilometres in under two hours. Fire crews were holding the Meldrum Complex fire from jumping the Fraser River on Thursday, after being pulled off because of safety concerns late Wednesday.

In the northwest, fire crews were avoiding the erratic front of the four large fires, tackling the sides of the blaze instead. The growing Binta Lake fire, 200 kilometres west of Prince George, forced people out of another 32 homes and placed an additional 335 residences on evacuation alert.

The fires also pushed an estimated 300 forestry workers out of the woods in Vanderhoof and Houston.

“There’s going to be increased wind, and wind is not your friend when you are dealing with fires,” said Canfor Corp. spokesman Dave Lefebvre. “We didn’t want to see a fire change direction and grow very quickly and catch us by surprise.”

The heavy smoke is adding to the danger by making it nearly impossible for forestry workers to see, he added.

Despite the challenging conditions, evacuation orders and alerts have been lifted for the Heckman Pass fire. Residents on the east side of the Fraser River are now on alert because of the Meldrum Complex fire.

The provincial government, which had threatened a mandatory backcountry ban, decided not to issue one since the weather overnight was not as intense as expected, said Pat Bell, Minister of Forests and Range.

Rain is forecasted over the weekend for many regions, including the Cariboo, but it won’t be season-ending for the provincial forest firefighters, Ms. Eamer said.

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