More than 45,000 people displaced by B.C. wildfires

Evacuations prompted by wildfires in central B.C. are approaching record levels for the province, officials said Tuesday.

First wave of evacuees expected to return home to Cache Creek this afternoon

Loon Lake evacuees greet each other at an evacuation centre. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Evacuations prompted by wildfires in central B.C. are approaching record levels for the province, officials said Tuesday.

The total number of people displaced by the fires is now estimated at 45,806, according to Robert Turner, deputy minister for Emergency Management B.C.

"This number has changed fairly significantly in the past 48 hours and that has to do primarily with getting better information from local governments," Turner said.

"It's becoming one of the largest displacement events in the history of the province."

The number of evacuations is now approaching the record set in 2003, when 50,000 people were forced out of their homes by a wildfire near Kelowna.

There have been no significant evacuation orders or alerts since Saturday, when high winds caused several of the wildfires to flare up and spread aggressively.

In the meantime, most of the major wildfires that have threatened communities like Williams Lake and 100 Mile House have remained relatively stable, according to information officer Kevin Skrepnek of the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The absence of wind has allowed firefighters to make progress on the fire lines.

"We've had a relatively calm few days," Skrepnek said. "That downturn in activity has been everything to do with the wind. Wind has been our most significant challenge."

Thousands of crew members are working on the wildfires in B.C., including hundreds from out of province. The Canadian Forces have been called in, too. (BC Wildfire Service)

First evacuees return home

Later on Tuesday, the first wave of evacuees from this busy fire season is expected to return home when the evacuation order is lifted at 3 p.m. PT.

The town of Cache Creek, which has a population of about 1,000, was the first to be evacuated 11 days ago as the Ashcroft Reserve wildfire burned through the nearby Ashcroft Indian Band Reserve and the Boston Flats trailer home community.

That wildfire remains one of the largest in the province, last estimated at 52,600 hectares. It has also prompted evacuation orders for the recreational community around Loon Lake and some areas near Clinton.

Farther north, in the 100 Mile House area, officials are also working on a plan to allow evacuees to return home in the wake of the Gustafsen wildfire, which is now 35 per cent contained.

The largest fire in the province is now the Hanceville-Riske complex, a series of smaller fires that have merged to create a 98,000-hectare blaze about 60 kilometres to the southwest of Williams Lake.

So far this year, 327,000 hectares have been burned by wildfires across B.C., according to the wildfire service. By Tuesday, there were 155 active fires in the province, including 15 significant blazes threatening communities.

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