A province in flames

B.C. fire facts: at least 700 fires are still burning, over 5,000 people evacuated, a price tag of $110 million and counting

British Columbia firesBritish Columbia forests are ablaze in the worst wildfire season since the mass evacuation of much of Kelowna in 2003. The outskirts of Kelowna are again at risk, but this is a battle fought on many fronts, stretching resources to the maximum. There are evacuations across the province, after hundreds of new fires broke out over the holiday long weekend. Although most residents heeded Premier Gordon Campbell’s plea to stay out of the tinder-dry backcountry, lightning strikes accounted for much of the new damage. And in Vancouver, an arsonist is suspected of setting four fires in Stanley Park over the weekend. Those fires were quickly extinguished but the potential of a disastrous fire in the four-square-km downtown park has the city on edge. An update:

Q: How many fires are burning in B.C. forests?
A: There have been more than 2,200 this season and as many as 700 fires are still burning. More than 100 new fires are reported daily, although most are in uninhabited or sparsely populated countryside.

Q: What communities are at risk?
A: More than 5,000 people were under evacuation orders Tuesday, but it changes by the day. The following communities are among those under full or partial evacuation order:

  • Lillooet: The Mount McLean fire was an estimated 3.333 hectares Tuesday, and was within one km of the town. More than 100 fire fighters and support staff were fighting the blaze with 19 pieces of heavy equipment and 15 helicopters.
    Number of evacuees: 2,000
  • West Kelowna: The Terrace Mountain fire is estimated at 7,500 hectares. Resources include 264 fire fighters, 16 helicopters, 83 pieces of heavy equipment and air takers.
    Number of evacuees: 2,500.
  • Brookmere: A 2,000-hectare fire is within  five km of Brookmere, near Merritt in the B.C. Interior. Some 14 firefighters are at the site, aided by two helicopters and eight pieces of heavy equipment. Another 100 firefighters were en route Tuesday.
    Number of evacuees: about 50, from 40 homes, many of them seasonal.
  • Blackcomb: The fire has been beaten back to 30 hectares and is about three km from the resort municipality of Whistler. No homes or critical infrastructure is at risk, and there are no evacuations. Some 39 firefighters are mopping up the last of the fires.

Q: Where can I get updates and information on fires and evacuees?
A: The Red Cross Fire Information Line: 1-888-350-6070
The latest B.C. government news releases:

Q: How many are fighting the fires?
A: “Approximately 2,000 Ministry of Forests personnel, 750 B.C. contractors and 850 firefighters from out-of-province, local resources and hundreds of crews trained under the Emergency Fire Fighter (EFF) program are engaged in fire response and support duties,” says the wildfire management branch of the forests ministry.

Q: Are reinforcements coming?
A: Yes, says the forest ministry. Some 22 personnel from Victoria State in Australia and eight from New Zealand are to arrive Thursday. They will stay for at least 30 days. B.C. firefighters have helped drought-stricken Australia in the past.

Q: What is this costing the province?
A: More than $110 million so far this season, more than twice the average annual fire suppression budget of $50 million.

Q: Will it get worse?
A: Quite possibly. August is frequently the worst month for fires, as it was during the devastating Kelowna fires of 2003. The fire risk is rated critical in 85 per cent of the province, due to hot, dry weather, lightning storms, and vast stands of pine beetle killed timber.

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