Western Canada wildfires prompt state of emergency, evacuations

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 08, 2017 9:29 AM

(Reuters) - Western Canada's British Columbia declared its first state of emergency in 14 years late on Friday as dozens of wildfires spread throughout the rural interior of the province, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.

On Friday, 138 new fires were started in the province, according to CBC News.

They popped up through a large interior portion of the province, extending hundreds of kilometers south from Williams Lake in the North, where a regional airport was shut down, to Princeton.

Local authorities warned that they expect fires to spread further over the weekend due to continued high temperatures, low humidity and brisk winds.

No deaths or injuries were reported, though Canadian media said that homes and other buildings were destroyed and that some evacuees were forced to abandon farm animals.

"Emergency response teams are doing everything possible to meet your needs," incoming Premier, John Horgan, said in a statement to province residents. "I am being updated on the efforts to fight the fire and assure your safety."

The province is home to farmers, energy firms, miners and recreational facilities including ski resorts.

Areas hardest hit included Ashcroft, which is about 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast of Vancouver, Canada's third-largest city, and 100 Mile House, a district about 100 kilometers further north in the province's Cariboo region.

"Fires are being reported faster than they can be written down - all over the Cariboo," the Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre said late Friday on its Facebook page. "If you are told to evacuate from your property, please leave immediately. These fires are extremely volatile."

Williams Lake Airport, which offers flights between the Cariboo region and Vancouver, was closed at 4 p.m. Friday.

One man posted dramatic video footage on Twitter that showed his vehicle passing through a highway that was encroached by flames on both sides.

As of Friday evening, some 3,600 residents had been evacuated from their homes, according to CTV Vancouver.

British Columbia last declared a state of emergency in August 2003, which was also to deal with wildfires.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; editing by Diane Craft)