(BC Wildfire)

327,000 hectares burned across B.C.

$98 million spent on fighting wildfires so far

There have been 327,000 hectares of land burned across B.C. since April 1.

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek reported the number on Tuesday afternoon. There have been 675 total fires across B.C. this fire season. Nine of them started on Monday.

There are 155 wildfires currently burning, Skrepnek said. Of those, 27 are fires of note and 15 are directly threatening communities. The firefighting effort has cost the province $98.4 million thus far.

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“That 327,000 hectares is certainly a significant jump from yesterday,” he said. “That’s a mix of growth on some fires, particularly in the Chilcotin area, but also just some more accurate mapping of what’s going on out there.”

Weather has been a “help and hindrance,” Skrepnek said, especially to the 230 aircraft working to douse the flames.

“Smoke has been a challenge today in terms of aircraft operation,” he said. “But visibility is improving.”

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The province continues to have just over 3,000 personnel, including firefighters and support staff, working on the fires. Of those, 961 are forest industry contractors, and 417 out-of-province personnel.

The BC Wildfire Centre is expecting some rain on Thursday, which Skrepnek said will help with the smoke but is unlikely do much for the wildfires themselves. However, the southern part of B.C. is expecting lightning near Hope and Princeton later today.

“Tomorrow, we’re expecting some isolated thunderstorms with rain in the south and potentially in the Cariboo,” he said.

Emergency Management BC deputy minister Robert Turner said that there are currently 45,806 evacuees. Of the 31,935 who have registered for aid with the Red Cross, 84 per cent will have received it by the end of Tuesday.

The updated numbers, Turner said, come largely as a result of more accurate demographic data from local governments.

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The money, which are being distributed by the Red Cross, comes from the provincial fund. Each evacuated household will received $600.

One of the biggest fires in the province, formerly called the Ashcroft Reserve fire, is now called the Elephant Hill Fire. Cache Creek residents, who have been under evacuation, will head back home at 3 p.m. today. The fire is considered 30 per cent contained.

Skrepnek said that the Cache Creek residents should remain vigilant, as today’s evacuation status downgrade could reverse itself. Cache Creek will remain under evacuation alert.

Turner warned returning residents that they should be prepared, not only logistically, but emotionally to return to their homes.

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This has been a traumatic event, for people, for families, for communities,” said Turner. Support services are being made available by local governments.

In terms of the practicalities, Turner said that grocery stores, gas stations and other utilities may not be functioning right away.

“Turning off a town is a lot easier than turning it back on,” said Turner. The Red Cross will be providing financial assistance and cleaning kits to families who return to their homes.

“Both the cleaning kits and financial assistance for returnees will require a physical visit to a Red Cross facility,” Turner said. The visit will verify that the family has returned to their communities.

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The White Lake fire, which had jumped the Fraser River earlier this week and was threatening Williams Lake, remains five to seven kilometres away from the city.

Sgt. Annie Linteau said that the RCMP will be watching over the return of Cache Creek residents to their homes very carefully. RCMP will be asking for identification in order to ensure that it is Cache Creek residents who are getting to return first. Linteau reminded the public that both RCMP officers and park rangers are communication to residents about evacuation orders. She noted that rangers have reported people ignoring instructions to leave in Wells Gray Park.

Significant fires update:

  • Hansville/Riske Creek complex – 98,000 ha
  • White Lake – 12,000 ha, 10 per cent contained
  • Wildwood complex – 13,000 ha, 20 per cent contained
  • Elephant Hill – 52,600 ha, 30 per cent contained