More than 1,500 properties in B.C. remain under evacuation order on Thursday due to wildfires raging nearby, with thousands more on standby to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.
Many communities under evacuation alert this week were among those hardest hit by the devastating wildfires in 2017. Two mayors say the scenario this year has brought back memories of that season four years ago, when thousands had to suddenly flee their homes after shifting winds pushed fires closer.
“We’ve been through this before, so everybody’s working together,” said Mitch Campsall, mayor of 100 Mile House.
Some of the largest evacuation orders in B.C. cover roughly 1,480 properties surrounding 100 Mile House, with residents in the Canim Lake and Lone Butte areas warned of “immediate danger” from wildfires.
More than 3,000 properties in the nearby Horse Lake area are under evacuation alerts. The District of 100 Mile House, roughly 200 kilometres north of Kamloops, is in the same boat.
Campsall spoke to CBC News by phone on Thursday from his post at a checkpoint on Highway 97C. The road has been shut down south of 100 Mile House as a nearby fire threatens to jump the highway.
The mayor said he’s watching the roads closely after the wildfires of 2017.
“That year, we were down to one road and were almost locked in, so we’re keeping a good eye on it [this year],” Campsall said.
Two additional routes in and out of 100 Mile House are still open, should an evacuation become necessary.
Erin Bull, a fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, says some progress has been made against the Canim Lake fire, burning just north of 100 Mile House, but it’s a tough situation for residents to find themselves in.
“It’s very difficult for people to have to leave their homes, especially in a tactical evacuation, when it’s at a moment’s notice,” she said.
“There is a lot of fire on the landscape across the region,” she continued, adding that similar conditions were seen in 2017.
“At the time these fires started … we were all aware we were experiencing unseasonably warm conditions, so that of course was a huge contribution to all the wildfires in the region.”
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth acknowledged residents’ stress is building.
“I know tensions for many are high, given the widespread, damaging fire seasons of recent years,” he said in a written statement.
“I want to assure British Columbians that we are deploying all necessary and available personnel and equipment to respond to wildfires across the province. The federal government and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre are providing firefighting personnel, aircraft support and other assets.”
Villages near Kamloops on alert
Fire activity is also affecting entire communities directly south of the Cariboo region.
The villages of Ashcroft and Cache Creek are under evacuation alert, as is the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve. Strong winds fanned a wildfire near Barnes Lake on Wednesday, pushing it to 78 square kilometres in size.
“Yesterday, unfortunately, the fire just spiralled out of control,” said Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden.
“We’re just doing [the alert] as a precautionary measure. We certainly hope that this is as far as it goes, but we want people to stay informed and be able to make decisions … and take some preparatory steps,” she said.
The village of Ashcroft was “ground zero” for one of the largest wildfires in B.C.’s history in 2017. The monstrous Elephant Hill fire began just south of the community, destroyed more than 120 homes and forced thousands of people to flee their communities.
Roden said the village adjusted its emergency plans after that fire knocked out power and communications with little warning.
“This year, we actually took the step of printing off 800 copies of the [evacuation alert] notice and staff and crews from the village went door to door to 800 homes in Ashcroft,” she said.
“All of the of people here very vividly remember 2017,” she continued. “We definitely did learn … sadly, we now have an opportunity to put that into practice.”
Residents of 50 properties to the southeast of Ashcroft were ordered to leave their homes Wednesday evening because of the same fire near Barnes Creek. People living on a further 117 properties near Young Lake were also told to leave for a safer area.
Nearly 200 properties in the Barnes Lake area east of Kamloops are on alert as of Wednesday.
Meanwhile, evacuation orders for areas closer to the City of Kamloops are still in effect. The orders cover more than 180 properties around the city, including areas near Savona and Copper Creek.
The fire responsible, known as the Sparks Lake fire, is roughly 402 square kilometres. There have been reports of buildings damaged or destroyed by the flames, but the Thompson-Nicola Regional District has not been able to verify the damage.
Residents of 41 properties in the Okanagan, west of Peachland, were ordered out before dawn Thursday as the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen said a new fire has threatened safety.
To the north, in the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District, another evacuation order remains in effect near Fort St. James because of a wildfire near Camsell Lake. It includes Yekooche First Nation reserves and portions of Rubyrock Lake Provincial Park and Sutherland River Park.
The regional district has also issued an evacuation order in relation to the Cutoff Creek wildfire burning north of Big Bend Arm.
Helicopter to assist with evacuations
The only highway through B.C.’s Chilcotin region — Highway 20 — remains closed near Anahim Lake.
The fire, known as the Big Stick Lake fire, jumped the highway on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Ulkatcho First Nation. A Canadian Forces helicopter was dispatched to Anahim Lake Airport on Wednesday to help shuttle evacuees out of the area.
North of Lytton, in the Fraser Canyon, an order is in place for 17 properties in the Gladwin Mobile Home Park and Jade Springs area, east of the village, because of the Lytton Creek wildfire.