British Columbia

B.C. wildfires lead to new evacuation orders, but not everyone leaves home

Hundreds were under evacuation orders that came down in Clinton and surrounding areas of the B.C. Interior late Saturday.

B.C. Wildfire Service urges locals to head for safety, saying 'areas are evacuated for good reason'

A trailer parked at a campground in Savona, B.C., is seen as the Elephant Hill wildfire burns in the distance near Clinton in the early hours on Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Hundreds of people in B.C.'s southern Cariboo region were under a wildfire evacuation order on Saturday night, but not everyone chose to leave town — something fire officials called "concerning."

The village of Clinton, which has a population of about 650, was told to evacuate due to the nearby Elephant Hill wildfire. Residents had been under an evacuation alert for weeks.

Linda LePage has asthma and left her home early, while her husband stayed behind with the property.

"The sky was all red. It was pretty scary," she said of her drive out of town. "I couldn't breathe at all, I had to get out … I only had one headlight, so I drove to Barrière [188 kilometres away] and then I pulled over."

"I'm really stressed," LePage told CBC News after finally arriving in Kamloops. She said she was worried about another property she and her husband own in Horse Lake, not far from where another wildfire is raging. 

Evacuation orders expanded

Later Saturday, the evacuation order was expanded to include the Chasm Mill site, properties along Highway 97 to the north and south of Clinton, and an area around Green Lake, including 70 Mile House. 

An evacuation order for the Clisbako, Kulskus and Blackwater area — about 100 kilometres west of Quesnel — was also expanded on Sunday.

Around 6,000 people provincewide are under an evacuation order.

Ed Ryhal lives in Green Lake, and says he's staying put with his wife and three grandchildren.

"I don't want to leave just yet. I've heard stories about looters and we're just hoping that the fire peters out," he said. "The bad part is, if you leave, you can't come back. That bothers me. We've retired here, we love the place and we've got too much invested and we don't want to go."

He said they'll hit the road "when grandma" says so.

Heat wave incoming

A heat wave is in the forecast for the southern part of the province this week, with temperatures expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius in the Interior — without any rain.

That forecast is keeping fire crews on their toes, said Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer.

"Weather's been our biggest challenge across the board on all these fires," he said. "Fire is pretty fickle in terms of the weather situation. If we were to have a widespread rain event across the entire province, that would put a bit of a reset on things but that's just not in the forecast right now."

Skrepnek said people who stay behind are "definitely a concern" for officials.

"Adults are allowed to make a decision about heeding an evacuation order or not … but these areas are evacuated for good reason. There's present danger there," he said. "We do ask the public to heed those orders."

When an evacuation order is in place, RCMP officers go door-to-door encouraging residents to leave. 

Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau said there would be little RCMP could for residents who ignore evacuation orders, if they were to request help later on.

"At the end of the day, if the situation worsens, the safety of our officers will be paramount and we're not going to put them in a position that will get them hurt," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be visiting B.C.'s wildfire zone for the second time this week, stopping in Williams Lake on Monday. He'll take an aerial tour over the city and meet with officers from the RCMP and Armed Forces.

There are currently 150 fires burning in the province, 13 of which started Saturday. Around $172 million has been spent on wildfire suppression efforts since April 1.

B.C. wildfires prompt new evacuation orders | 'We're going to stay until it gets really close'

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Wildfire in Clinton, B.C., affects hundreds under evacuation order, but some residents – including restaurant owner Rick Billay – say they're not leaving 3:40

Instructions for evacuees

Evacuees from Clinton who need food and shelter are asked to register at the Sandman Centre at 300 Lorne St. in Kamloops. Anyone who has left the Clisbako area was told to drive to Quesnel, where they'll find an emergency centre at 500 North Star Road.

Highway 97 is closed to the public, aside from the stretch between Clinton and 70 Mile which is open for evacuation purposes.

All evacuees need to register with the Red Cross by calling 1-800-863-6582.

With files from Anita Bathe and Mike Zimmer