British Columbia

Towns, homes evacuated in B.C. as wildfires burn out of control

A state of emergency has been declared in British Columbia as wildfires burn out of control across the Interior. The fires have prompted the evacuation of at least one airport, two hospitals, an entire town and hundreds of homes throughout the area.

Lightning, dry weather and wind throughout the region have caused fires to spread quickly

Lightning has sparked several wildfires near Williams Lake, B.C. (Tore_greco/Instagram)

The province of British Columbia has declared a state of emergency, as wildfires burn out of control throughout most of the Interior. 

"​The extended weather forecast is calling for continued hot, dry weather, with risks of thunderstorms in many parts of the province," the province said in a written statement Friday.

The declaration gives emergency resources special authority to deal with the fires.

Wildfires burning out of control across the Interior have prompted the evacuation of at least one airport, two hospitals, an entire town and hundreds more homes throughout the region. 

The B.C. Wildfire Service said 138 new fires started throughout the province on Friday, many of them started by lightning.

Fire near Ashcroft

One of the largest fires is near Ashcroft, a town in a dry grasslands area about 120 kilometres west of Kamloops.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District has declared a state of local emergency because of the fire, which quickly grew to more than 4,000 hectares from 50 hectares over the course of the day.

A driver passing through the Ashcroft area in the B.C. Interior tweeted this photo showing heavy smoke billowing from a wildfire. (@theofaber/Twitter)

The Ashcroft Hospital has been closed as a precaution, its long-term residents moved to Merritt. 

Nearby, the Village of Cache Creek has been evacuated because of the rapidly moving fire.

The flames have consumed buildings and closed highways in both directions, including Highway 1 and Highway 97C, according to DriveBC.

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta said the fire destroyed two airport hangars and all of the 30-or-so homes at a trailer park in Boston Flats, which is about seven kilometres south of the town. 

Ranta said the fire has also consumed three or four homes on the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve. 

Fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said 48 firefighters are currently battling the blaze, along with several aircraft. 

'It was definitely scary'

A reception centre for evacuees has been set up in Kamloops at the McArthur Island Sport Park.

The centre's co-ordinator, Gord Davis, said some residents streaming into the centre had to rush to leave their homes.

"Some of them are pretty fragile because some of them have seen their home go up in flames and others aren't really sure what they're going to go back to," Davis said. 

The centre is helping evacuees with accommodation, clothing and meals, but Davis said hotel rooms are in short supply because of the time of year and events taking place over the weekend.

Thompson Rivers University announced plans to house and support wildfire evacuees Saturday morning. The university said it would provide group lodging in its basement and other accommodations if needed.

Wildfires in the Cariboo

Farther north in the province in the Cariboo Regional District, a series of lightning strikes has sparked several wildfires in the area around Williams Lake — one of them prompting the evacuation of the city's airport. 

Mike MacKenzie was driving home to Metro Vancouver from a business trip in Prince George when he saw dry lightning strike the area. 

"I saw three of them and then I saw the fires they created as I drove by them," MacKenzie said. "I've never seen as many fires all start pretty much in about a two-hour period."

The Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre has issued a warning, saying "fires are reported faster than they can be written down — all over the Cariboo."

Near 100 Mile House, about 100 kilometres southeast of Williams Lake, a 1,800-hectare blaze has forced at least 3,600 people to leave their homes. 

Interior Health said the 100 Mile District General Hospital, two residential care sites and an assisted living facility were evacuated.

As of 3:22 a.m. PT, the District of 100 Mile House remains under evacuation alert.

In a statement, Interior Health said acute care patients will be going to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, while home care and assisted living clients will be moved to facilities in Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Merritt and possibly other communities.

Parts of the communities of Little Fort and Dunn Lake were also ordered to evacuate Friday night, due to two smaller wildfires burning in the area.

Indigenous communities evacuated

The Tl'etinqox First Nation and Yunesit'in First Nation, both around 100 kilometres west of Williams Lake, were both put under evacuation order.

Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tl'etinqox First Nation said most of the community's 1,000 residents escaped farther west to Red Stone.

"That's about the only route we can take right now," Alphonse said. "Every other road, logging road, is shut right down."​

Wind and lightning

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said a big trough of low pressure is swinging across the province, bringing gusty winds and lightning.

"The problem is, we're getting a lot of lightning, and a lot of localized erratic strong winds, but not a lot of precipitation," Wagstaffe said. 

High winds and thunderstorms are expected to persist in the region through the evening hours, before easing overnight. 

Princeton fire

In the southern Interior, a wildfire near Princeton has also prompted an evacuation order for homes in the area. 

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen issued the order late Friday afternoon for the properties about 10 kilometres north of Princeton on Summers Creek Road and Dry Lake along Highway 5A. 

The district said the B.C. Wildfire Service, RCMP and Princeton Fire Service are on scene. 

An emergency reception centre is being set up at the Riverside Community Centre in Princeton. 

A wildfire is burning about 10 kilometres north of Princeton, B.C. (Kathy Simpkins)

With files from Lien Yeung, Justin McElroy and Angela Sterritt