B.C. declares state of emergency as hundreds of wildfires burn across province

The British Columbia government has declared a state of emergency to support the provincewide response to the ongoing wildfire situation.

Thousands of residents have been affected by evacuation orders

The Shovel Lake wildfire near Burns Lake, B.C., triggered an evacuation order on Aug. 13, 2018. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Latest developments:

  • B.C. declares state of emergency
  • 566 fires burning across the province
  • 3,050 people affected by evacuation orders
  • 2018 is already 4th worst season on record

The British Columbia government has declared a provincewide state of emergency in response to the ongoing wildfire situation.

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth made the declaration on Wednesday morning.

"Public safety is always our first priority and, as wildfire activity is expected to increase, this is a progressive step in our wildfire response to make sure British Columbia has access to any and all resources necessary," Farnworth said in a statement.

The state of emergency is initially in effect for 14 days, once issued, and may be extended or rescinded as necessary. 

It applies to the whole province and ensures federal, provincial and local resources can be delivered in a co-ordinated response to protect the public.

"Taking this step will further ensure we can protect the public, property and infrastructure, and assist with firefighting efforts," he said.

Province on edge

The declaration comes as smoke from hundreds of wildfires continues to blanket the province and evacuation orders expand across the north and central regions.

Farnworth denied criticism that not enough resources, including firefighters and aircraft, were being deployed to fight the fires, particularly in the north.

"When we talk to the B.C. Wildfire Service ... they are telling us they are getting what they need," he said, adding the province is working with the federal government, the provinces and other countries to bring in extra resources.

Under a sky darkened by smoke from nearby wildfires, a driver waits to pick up livestock at the Francois Lake ferry, south of Burns Lake. The entire Southside community is now under an evacuation order, and the ferry is running 24/7 to facilitate evacuation efforts. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

So far this year, more than 380,000 hectares have been burned by wildfires, making it the fourth worst season on record.

But Farnworth noted there are some very significant differences when compared with the record setting 1.2 million hectares burned last year.

"This year we are dealing with fires all over the province, whereas last year they were concentrated in a number of areas, the Cariboo for example."

The fires are also not as large or as close to communities as last year, he said.

This is also the fourth state of emergency declared by the province because of wildfires, he noted. Previous declarations were in 1996, 2003 and 2017, which lasted 10 weeks.

No relief in forecast

The extended weather forecast calls for continued hot and dry conditions, with the risk of thunderstorms in some parts of the province.

There are more than 560 wildfires burning across B.C., including this one near the Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort near Tweedsmuir. (Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort)

Three new evacuation orders were signed yesterday by the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, located west of Prince George, which has some of the largest wildfires in the province.

Across the province, many areas have been under hazy or smoky skies for days or even weeks, including Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley where the air quality health index was rated 9 on a 1-10 scale on Wednesday morning.

The smoky air has prompted officials to issue alerts warning those with compromised health to stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise.

B.C. wildfires by the numbers

As of Aug. 14, there were:

  • 566 wildfires burning in B.C.
  • 29 evacuation orders affecting approximately 3,050 people (1,521 properties). 
  • 48 evacuation alerts impacting approximately 18,720 people (9,359 properties).
  • 3,372 firefighters and contractors actively engaged in fighting fires in all fire regions of the province.
  • This includes 436 out-of-province personnel from Alberta, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Parks Canada, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand.
  • Crews have responded to nearly 1,800 wildfires since April 1.
  • More than 400 of those are believed to be caused by humans.

About the Author

Mike Laanela

Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.

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