British Columbia

Trudeau urges Canadians to donate to the Red Cross at B.C. wildfire fundraiser

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in B.C.'s Columbia region on Saturday to attend a fundraiser for those affected by wildfires raging across the province.

Canadian Red Cross says 50,000 people have registered with it as hundreds of wildfires continue to burn

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in Revelstoke, B.C., on Saturday, July 29, 2017 at a Canadian Red Cross fundraiser for victims of wildfires in B.C. (CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was warmly received in Revelstoke, B.C., Saturday as he arrived to visit people affected by hundreds of wildfires burning across the province.

Trudeau attended a Canadian Red Cross fundraiser in the Columbia Shuswap region town, which is about 560 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

"It's amazing to be here today when we know what is going on with fires and friends and neighbours," he said after making his way through the crowd, giving handshakes and high-fives.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was warmly received in Revelstoke where he spoke for 10 minutes at a Canadian Red Cross fundraiser. (CBC)

Trudeau took to the stage with his eight-year-old daughter, Ella-Grace, before speaking about the need for Canadians to donate to the Canadian Red Cross in aid of wildfire victims in B.C.

The organization says 50,000 people have registered with it to receive aid.

Evacuees who qualify will receive $600 from the Red Cross for each two-week period they're out of their homes, for up to a total of three payments. They will also receive a $300 cheque when they return home.

The prime minister reiterated a federal promise made a week ago to match funds given to the Canadian Red Cross by the B.C. government.

Officials with the Canadian Red Cross did not say on Saturday how much of the money they've been able to distribute so far.

"Recovery and rebuilding is a long and expensive process, and donating to the Canadian Red Cross today will help ensure that the support gets to the people who need it," said Trudeau.

Trudeau said he will visit wildfire-affected areas in the days ahead.

"To see the extent of the damage, but mostly to thank the extraordinary responders who work tirelessly, long, long days and weeks to save our homes, to protect our communities. And they all deserve a huge round of applause," he said.

Heavy smoke from the Elephant Hill wildfire was visible from a lookout near Clinton, B.C., about 40 kilometres northwest of Cache Creek. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Multiple local politicians, First Nations leaders and officials from the Canadian Red Cross spoke at the event, and Métis actor and singer Tom Jackson performed a few songs.

Trudeau announced he would be travelling west during his first official meeting with B.C. Premier John Horgan in Ottawa last week.

The trip comes as B.C. is weeks into a historic fire season: flames haven't scorched this much territory in the province since 1961.

There are currently 148 fires burning in B.C., nine of which started on Friday. There are currently more than 3,700 evacuees across B.C. — down considerably from 20,300 on Tuesday. Eighteen evacuation orders are in place, along with 47 alerts.

A further order was put in place Saturday for the Village of Clinton, B.C.

Many parts of the province have been tinder dry for weeks, and officials said that southern B.C. was going to stay that way for the "foreseeable future."

"We're not seeing any rain in the forecast right now for the next seven to 10 days," Kevin Skrepnek with the B.C. Wildfire Service said Saturday.

Public interference

On Saturday, Skrepnek said the public needs to steer clear of areas where fire crews are working.

In the past few days, he said firefighters have had to stop work after off-road vehicles went into active fire areas. Skrepnek also said boats have been getting in the way of helicopters and water-skimming aircraft.

"It certainly is becoming an increasing concern," he said. "Obviously, this is not only posing a risk to the public but also potentially impacting our operations and affecting safety of our crews.

I think it's just ignorance as to how large these fires are and how expansive our ops have become.- Kevin Skrepnek, B.C. Wildfire Service.

"For the most part, it's people using trails and off-road areas and lakes ... I think it's just ignorance as to how large these fires are and how expansive our ops have become," Skrepnek said.

"This is just a matter of the public needing to understand that these are very active areas and likely will be for the rest of the summer."

More than 810 fires have burned more than 4,260 square kilometres in the province since April 1. To date, more than $166 million has been spent on suppression efforts.