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British Columbia declares state of emergency as fires spread

July 9, 2017

The Canadian province of British Columbia has evacuated thousands of people as dry weather continues to fuel blazes, with 138 new fires starting in the last days. They are believed to be the worst wildfires in a decade.

Wildfires in Cache Creek British Columbia
Image: picture-alliance/empics/D. Dyck

About 3,000 residents in the central part of the province were told to evacuate as a wind-fanned wildfire moved closer on Saturday.

Some 56 new wildfires had started across the province by mid-Saturday, raising the total number of active and dangerous wildfires to more than 240, local media reported.

"Given the current wildfire situation and the expected increase in wildfire activity, the province is taking this extraordinary measure of declaring a provincial state of emergency," Todd Stone, British Columbia's transportation and emergency management chief, said in a statement.

The state of emergency is the first in the province since 2003, although there were also major forest fires in 2016. The province of Alberta declared a state of emergency in 2016. 

"This is an urgent situation and public safety is the top priority," a press release from BC's provincial government reads.

Residents were ordered to evacuate the villages of Ashcroft and Cache Creek in the province's Thompson-Nicola district, Stone said. A hospital was closed as a precaution.

Damage and alerts

The mayor of Cache Creek, John Ranta, told reporters that fires had destroyed at least five houses, 30 trailer park homes and two hangars of a regional airport on Friday, but that no structures had been lost on Saturday.

Over 3,600 people were forced to leave their homes in the Kamloops district, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Ashcroft, while the Cariboo Regional District Chairman Al Richmond said that the evacuation order applied to 1,800 properties northwest of Kamloops.

Canadian Armed Forces pilots view the fires in the Fort McMurray area from a helicopter
Canadian Armed Forces pilots view the fires in the Fort McMurray area from a helicopterImage: Imago/UPI Photo

BC Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said the Gustafsen wildfire started on Thursday and that a 4.6-square-mile (12-square-kilometer) blaze was burning west of 100 Mile House. Its cause is not yet known, he added.

The fires have prompted an air quality alert for Metro Vancouver.

The Weather Network reported on Saturday that a ridge of high pressure over Western Canada is sustaining hot, desert air pushing up from the US throughout the Prairies (the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) and into BC.

Droughts also plagued other areas along the North America's west coast, with over a dozen wildfires spreading across the US state of California. The extreme weather saw temperatures reach a height of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius) in downtown Los Angeles, breaking a 131-year-old record. 

jbh/jm (AFP, AP)