KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Help from other provinces and the federal government has begun to pour in for firefighters and thousands of evacuees grappling with more than 200 intense wildfires raging across British Columbia.
About 300 firefighters and support staff from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick started to arrive Monday to help relieve the pressure on roughly 1,000 B.C. crew members battling the blazes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke with Premier Christy Clark as well as premier-designate John Horgan on Sunday night and the Canadian Armed Forces have sent aircraft and personnel to support the emergency response.
Residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., who had to flee a massive wildfire last year, have also sprung into action by collecting donations of supplies, driving them to B.C. and offering support and advice on social media.
Christopher Seguin, vice-president of advancement at Thompson Rivers University, said terrified evacuees arrived at a Kamloops reception centre with nothing, having “lost everything and having lost it quickly.”
He said four tonnes of supplies arrived from Fort McMurray including wrapped and sealed water, Gatorade and baby supplies. Volunteers were making sure the Kamloops food bank receives and distributes them.
Seguin expressed his gratitude to the residents of Fort McMurray.
“Thank you. Thank you for giving back and thank you for going to an extraordinary effort to making sure we get exactly what we need at exactly the right time,” he said.
Provincial authorities said Monday that more than 215 fires were burning, with 29 breaking out on Sunday. The fire has scorched about 400 square kilometres of land and more than 14,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.
The entire District of 100 Mile House, a community of roughly 1,800 people, was ordered evacuated Sunday night.
Al Richmond, chairman of the Cariboo Regional District, said the last evacuees from 100 Mile House left around 2 a.m. Monday on a bus to Prince George to receive emergency assistance. Others headed to the Lower Mainland, he said.
Some nearby communities were under evacuation alert and residents were told to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.
Bob Turner of Emergency Management BC said there were no accidents or injuries as people rushed to flee 100 Mile House. He praised the “nimble and flexible” response and ongoing co-operation between the province, Ottawa and First Nations.
“Generally, we’re still looking at a deteriorating situation,” he added. “We are looking at many weeks to come of a very challenging environment and public safety will remain the overriding priority of government.”
Turner said the agency has been in regular contact with its counterpart in Alberta and has also closely studied reports that were written after the Fort McMurray fire to make sure B.C. is applying lessons that were learned.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said B.C. requested 3,000 cots and 3,000 blankets from federal stockpiles and they have been delivered to Prince George.
The province also asked for air support from the Canadian Armed Forces, which will be used for emergency evacuations and to move firefighters, emergency officials and equipment around the fire zone.
“It’s a relatively small number at this moment but we are in very early days here,” Goodale said in Regina.
BC Hydro said the fires have caused significant damage to electrical infrastructure in the Interior and have left thousands without power. The utility was actively working Monday to restore electricity.
Nearly 70 public parks were closed and campfires were banned provincewide, apart from Haida Gwaii and the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The largest blaze, covering more than 60 square kilometres, was burning near Ashcroft, an Interior community about 90 kilometres from Kamloops.
Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta has said the fire between Ashcroft and Cache Creek destroyed dozens of buildings, including at least five houses, 30 trailer park homes and two hangars at a regional airport.
Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, said structures had definitely been lost in multiple fires across the province, but the assessment of how many was still underway.
Gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are expected to continue for days, said Skrepnek. Some lightning was anticipated, bringing rain but also the potential to ignite new fires.
“Unfortunately, in terms of the weather forecast, we’re not really seeing any reprieve in the immediate future,” he said.
— By Laura Kane and Elizabeth Leighton in Vancouver, with files from Jennifer Graham in Regina.
The Canadian Press
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