A crew of firefighters from the Yukon travelled to Telegraph Creek, B.C. Wednesday to assist in the battle against a devastating wildfire.
The crew is managed by the development arm of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, a First Nation in the Whitehorse area.
Spokesman Ben Asquith said the call for assistance came from Darius Elias. The parents of the former Vuntut Gwitchin MLA live in Telegraph Creek.
Seventeen areas have been evacuated due to extreme fire danger – which has seen two large blazes blend into one.
The largest threat is in the Telegraph Creek area, where 250 people have been ordered to leave.
Most went to Dease Lake, where a public meeting on the fire was held Wednesday evening, or Terrace.
B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said he’s tried to get into Telegraph Creek to survey damage from the ongoing fire that has destroyed or damaged two dozen buildings. He has been turned back twice due to thick smoke.
The province’s Department of Public Works facility has been destroyed by flames.
The blaze is not currently burning toward Dease Lake.
A cooling trend is forecast for British Columbia. But provincial firefighting officials say the change in the weather is likely to be accompanied by intense lightning capable of igniting more forest fires.
Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.’s chief fire information officer, said Wednesday the heat should let up across the province by Friday, but with that comes forecasts of thunderstorms, lightning strikes and only small amounts of rain.
He said the amount of rain in the most recent forecast is between three and five millimetres, which is not enough to ease the extreme fire conditions across B.C.
“The real day we are focusing on right now is Friday,’’ he said from Kamloops. “We do expect a pretty dramatic shift in the weather.’’
Skrepnek said the forecast predicts the breakdown of the high pressure ridge that has brought record high temperatures to much of the province.
“Unfortunately, with the system coming through, we are expecting a cold front that is going to bring about increased winds and that is more than likely going to bring some thunderstorm activity with it,’’ he said. “We are bracing for it to be a challenging day.’’
There are currently 462 fires burning in B.C., a much higher number than the 130 fires reported on the same date one year ago, said Skrepnek.
He said so far this year, since April 1, there have been 1,502 fires, burning about 101,000 hectares and costing $131 million to fight. B.C. spent about $650 million fighting forest fires in 2017.
Donaldson said he took an aerial tour Wednesday of the fire zone in central B.C. where he saw thick plumes of smoke, trees in flames and recent fire damage to area forests. He said he was accompanied by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.
“This year, the fire season seemed to start later, but it’s more widespread than last year with wildfires of note in all areas of the province,’’ said Donaldson. He spoke in a telephone conference call from a government forest office at Burns Lake.
He said last year’s record fire season that saw the city of Williams Lake evacuated was concentrated in the Cariboo and southern Interior regions.
This year, wildfires are hitting all areas of B.C., including Vancouver Island, the North and the Interior.
The major fires of concern include the wildfire in Telegraph Creek in the province’s northwest and a large blaze south of Keremeos, he said.
Donaldson noted that Telegraph Creek is located near the Alaska border and Keremeos is near the eastern Washington state border.
Farnworth said there are currently 22 evacuation alerts in areas across B.C. They mean residents must be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
THE CANADIAN PRESS