Over 10,000 residents of Williams Lake and its surrounding areas are under an evacuation alert late Monday with fires burning up large chunks of B.C.
It is the largest city currently facing such a threat after a strong wind and lightning system ignited the bone-dry forest of B.C.'s Interior on Friday, leading to a weekend of wildfires, road closures, evacuations and a provincial state of emergency.
Bob Turner, from Emergency Management B.C., says there are already an estimated 14,000 evacuees, and firefighters are using all resources to contain the 220 active wildfires burning across the province.
"We're still looking at a deteriorating situation," said Turner. "We are looking at many weeks to come of a challenging environment and public safety will remain the overriding priority."
Kevin Skrepnek, the province's chief wildfire information officer, said there are around a dozen fires of major concern due to their proximity to communities.
"We're focused on protecting critical infrastructure, protecting communities and quite importantly, keeping our highway routes open. Given the movement of people and given the evacuations, we want to make sure those access routes are available so people can get out if they need to."
Emergency reinforcements from across the province and country are expected to arrive today to help, but shifting weather — especially wind — could worsen the situation.
Skrepnek says there have been 572 forest fires this year and estimates those fires have burned a little over 40,000 hectares — an area about half the size of New York City.
Williams Lake situation expected to get worse
Officials with the Cariboo Regional District and City of Williams Lake say the city's alert was issued to get residents prepared to leave if the situation worsened.
While they were cautiously optimistic no evacuation order would be issued over the course of the night, winds are expected to pick up and will become even less favourable on Wednesday.
"We needed to err on the side of caution and make sure people had advanced warning," said CRD Chair Al Richmond. "We normally have days to prepare people and suggest they might want to prepare for evacuation.
"The type of fire we've been experiencing, and the intell we've been getting from the forest service has been so quick because the fire changes so quickly."
The fire of immediate concern is to the west of the city about 20 kilometres away, across the Fraser River near Riske Creek.
Officials say if the alert turns into an evacuation order, residents will be ordered to Prince George.
Williams Lake chief administrative officer Milo MacDonald says in the Greater Williams Lake area, there may be as many as 20,000 people on evacuation alert or orders.
Current evacuation alerts and orders
For the latest evacuation alerts and orders, visit Emergency Info BC.
- 100 Mile House: an evacuation order for the community was issued Sunday. The surrounding fringe areas and Forest Grove are under evacuation alert.
- Cache Creek: the village of Cache Creek and surrounding properties have been ordered evacuated. Residents are to go to the McArthur Island Sports Lounge in Kamloops. Other areas to the north, east and west are under evacuation alert.
- Princeton: 350 homes in the Highway 5A area between Cedar Creek Road and Dry Lake have been ordered evacuated. All homes north of Princeton along Highway 5A north to Cedar Creek Road and along Princeton Summerland Road to Shinish Creek Road are under evacuation alert.
- Little Fort: properties west and south of Lemieux Creek are under evacuation order. Several properties to the east are under evacuation alert. North of nearby Dunn Lake, several properties on Dunn Lake Road and Windpass Road have been ordered evacuated.
- Clearwater: several properties on Dunn Lake Road, Bradshaw Road and McCarthy Creek Road have been ordered evacuated. Several dozen other properties in the District of Clearwater and TNRD Electoral Area A were also on evacuation alert.
- Williams Lake: the Moore Mountain, Miocene, Wildwood, Fox Mountain, Soda Creek and Lexington Subdivision north of 150 Mile House, has been ordered evacuated. The remainder of the city is under an evacuation alert as is the nearby area of South Lakeside.
- 150 Mile House: the community and surrounding areas have been ordered evacuated.
- Alexis Creek: an area north of Highway 20 between Alexis Creek and the Fraser River has been ordered evacuated. That order was later expanded to reach areas as far west as Chilcotin Lake and almost as far north as Quesnel.
- Loon Lake: the community and surrounding properties are under an evacuation alert.
- Quesnel: properties near Dragon Mountain are under an evacuation alert.
- Naltesby Lake: An area surrounding the lake, southwest of Prince George, is under evacuation alert.
- Fort Fraser: an area north of the community between Fraser Lake and the Stuart River is under evacuation alert.
- Kleena Kleene: an evacuation order was issued for this community and surrounding areas.
The mayor of Prince George says the city has set up beds for 500 to 700 people. Evacuees are being asked to register first at the College of New Caledonia so they can be assigned housing.
Canada Post has suspended its delivery service to the following areas: Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 100 Mile House, 108 Mile House, Lac la Hache, Little Fort, Alexis Creek, Hanceville, Nemiah Valley, 150 Mile House, Riske Creek, Miocene, Horsefly, Big Lake, Likely, Williams Lake, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake, and parts of Quesnel.
Mail and parcels will be held in a secure location until contingency plans are in place.
On Monday, the province issued a complete ban on campfires in the province with the exception of Haida Gwaii and the Fog Zone on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The last time such a blanket ban was in place was 2015.
Skrepnek says about 70 provincial parks have been closed due to the fires.
For the latest road closures and conditions, visit DriveBC.
- Highway 1: closed from Ashcroft to Cache Creek; and both directions east and west out of Cache Creek; and in the westbound lane to Savona.
- Highway 5A: closed in both directions at junction with Highway 3 in Princeton and north of Princeton at Allison Lake Provincial Park.
- Highway 97: closed from junction of Highway 1 in Cache Creek to Clinton, and at the Canim Hendrix intersection to the Timothy Lake Road junction. Open to northbound traffic from Williams Lake and closed to southbound traffic from 15 kilometres south of Quesnel.
- Highway 97C: closed from Logan Lake to Ashcroft; and from junction with Highway 1 to Government Street in Ashcroft.
- Highway 99: closed from Lillooet to Cache Creek.
- Highway 20: closed to westbound traffic at the Chilcotin Bridge, 25 km west of Williams Lake.
- Highway 24: closed to westbound traffic heading to 100 Mile House from the junction with Horse Lake Road.
- Likely Road: closed from 150 Mile House to junction with Horsefly Road.
Weather conditions in B.C.'s Interior are expected to be sunny, with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s today. Temperatures are expected to climb to the high 30s by the end of the week.
CBC weather presenter Amy Bell says winds got up to about 35 km/h in the Princeton area — enough to whip up flames — and high winds could blow throught the Kamloops area Tuesday.
Dry lightning was also reported in B.C.'s southeastern corner.
No rain is expected today or Tuesday in the Interior, except for the Columbia-Kootenay area.
For air quality advisories, check with Environment Canada.
According to Environment Canada, smoke is causing poor air quality and reducing visibility in a number of areas.
Air quality alerts are in place for the following regions. People in these regions are being asked to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and to stay inside if you have breathing difficulties.
- 100 Mile House
- Cariboo - north including Quesnel
- Cariboo - south including Williams Lake
- Fraser Canyon - north including Lillooet
- Fraser Canyon - south including Lytton
- North Thompson
- South Thompson
- Central Okanagan
- North Okanagan
- South Okanagan
- Prince George