British Columbia

Evacuation alert in Williams Lake, B.C. could last for weeks, officials warn

Gusty winds forecast for the B.C. Interior this weekend could spread wildfires to new parts of the province, an official warns as thousands already are unable to return to their homes.

'We have a really dry forest that we're going to have to live with all summer'

Firefighters near Williams Lake, B.C., take a break on Wednesday. Over 300 out-of-province firefighters have already arrived to help relieve exhausted local crews. (Simon Hergott/CBC)

There are approximately 10,000 people in B.C.'s Cariboo Regional District under evacuation orders, and 10,750 under evacuation alert, including all of Williams Lake.

And those alerts and orders may be in place for some time to come.

Al Richmond, chair of the Cariboo Regional District, said they could be in place for weeks because of a lack of precipitation in the forecast for B.C.'s Interior, where crews are battling over a dozen large wildfires.

"Because of the issues with dryness in the forest, the weather, there's no significant precipitation projected in seven to 10 days ... we have a really dry forest that we're going to have to live with all summer."

Richmond made his remarks at a forum for evacuated residents in Prince George on Thursday night. He said authorities have confirmed that at least eight properties have been destroyed. 

"For those of you who live at [108 Mile Ranch] or 150 Mile House, if you didn't get a call from me today, then your house is fine," he said.

Risk of gusty winds this weekend

Meanwhile, gusty winds forecast for the B.C. Interior this weekend could spread wildfires to new parts of the province, an official warns, as thousands of evacuees remain unable to return to their homes.

"Definitely toward the weekend some cold fronts are coming in and bringing some stronger wind patterns," said Darron Campbell, director of the Emergency Operations Centre for the Cariboo Regional District.

"Most of those weather patterns seem to be in the western part of the region, over in the Chilcotin and the north Cariboo, in areas that have not seen a lot of activity to date," he said.

"We might be dealing with some new situations in some new areas."

A police officer wears a mask to help deal with the smoke as wildfires continue to burn across the B.C. Interior. Over 300 RCMP officers from across B.C. and Alberta have already arrived to help with evacuation efforts. (Simon Hergott/CBC)

Campbell added that officials are already preparing for any potential issues, including prescribed burns near Williams Lake and 100 Mile House on Wednesday and Thursday.

"Certainly we have a window of opportunity over the next few days to prepare any new areas that might become a problem over the weekend," he said.

Rec areas closed in Cariboo

In an effort to protect public safety, all recreation sites and trails in the Cariboo Fire Centre area have been closed.

The closure will remain in effect until further notice and any members of the public currently using recreation sites within the Cariboo Fire Centre are advised to leave.

Campfires have already been banned across the province and dozens of provincial parks in the fire zone have been closed.

Firefighting equipment rests on the ground while firefighters take a break near Williams Lake on Wednesday. (Simon Herggott/CBC)

Progress made in recent days

Since last Friday, more than 16,000 people have been forced from their homes by wildfires, and thousands more have been warned to be ready to leave at a moment's notice if the situation gets worse.

Since April, 78,000 hectares have been burned by 602 wildfires, officials said Wednesday.

The entire province remains under a state of emergency issued by the provincial government last week, and air quality advisories issued by Environment Canada remain in effect for larger areas of the Interior.

A break in the weather in recent days has allowed firefighters to make progress, cutting the number of wildfires from about 220 earlier this week to 183 on Wednesday.

But Al Richmond with the Cariboo Regional District says shifting winds did fan flames toward a rural area southwest Williams Lake on Wednesday night.

Just before 5 p.m. local time, the Cariboo district issued a new evacuation order for South of the Chilcotin River to Fletcher Lake.

The district has also published an interactive map of all 18 areas under evacuation orders or alerts.

With files from The Canadian Press


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