B.C. officials face challenges in bringing people home after fire evacuations

By The Canadian Press
July 18, 2017 - 10:20am Updated: July 18, 2017 - 12:30pm

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — A British Columbia official says getting people to safety as fast-moving wildfires approached was only half the battle — the other half will be returning them home.

Al Richmond, chairman of the Cariboo Regional District in B.C.’s central Interior, says the district has hit logistical snags as it prepares to allow the re-entry of residents of 100 Mile House and the surrounding area.

“We’re beginning to look at how we can bring you folks home,” he told a public meeting of evacuees gathered in Kamloops on Monday night.

“Now, I don’t want you to believe that means you’re coming home tomorrow or at the end of the week. There are many things that have to be done.”

More than 40,000 people remain out of their homes as nearly 160 wildfires burn across the province. Residents of Cache Creek, with a population of about 1,000, will be allowed to return home today, while officials look at readying the 100 Mile House area for re-occupancy.

But Richmond said it’s no easy task. For example, in 108 Mile House, 105 Mile House and 103 Mile House, the power was off for four or five days. The Canadian Red Cross has said all the spoiled food is hazardous material, he said.

“So those fridges and freezes you have in your house are probably going to go, and we’re going to get information about how to dispose of those,” he said.

“If you look at (108 Mile House) alone, 1,160 homes, times how many freezers, times how many fridges. Those are some of the logistics of taking you home.”

Grocery stores and restaurants will also need to clean out and sanitize their shelves, refrigerators and freezers, and order more food, he added.

The district issued a statement that said a comprehensive assessment will be conducted to ensure the integrity of all infrastructure and utilities, such as water, sewer, roads, hydro, natural gas and emergency telephone services.

Priority services will also be established, including but emergency healthcare services, waste management services and security, it said.

Cache Creek residents will be allowed to go home at 3 p.m. today after being evacuated 10 days ago. Officials with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District said that while the 520-square-kilometre Ashcroft fire continues to grow and burn out of control, the imminent threat to Cache Creek has diminished.

But the village will remain on evacuation alert, meaning people must be prepared to leave again at a moment’s notice.

A wind-fuelled flare-up of a fire near Williams Lake Saturday forced the evacuation of that city, but Richmond said crews had managed to keep the flames in check about seven kilometres northwest of the community.

He said the reason it was evacuated was because the fire breached the road to the north and one exit point was lost.

“That’s why it was evacuated. Not because the flames were marching over the hill because some people like to believe, but because in order to get you out safely, calmly, you needed to leave then.”

More than 1,880 square kilometres of the province have been burned by wildfires this year, exceeding the entire 2016 fire season.

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver

The Canadian Press

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