At last word, the wildfire that broke out in Lake Country Saturday evening was mapped at 55 hectares and was 80 per cent contained thanks to retardant that was dropped to ring the fire zone.
Local firefighters with help from various other communities and 17 from the BC Wildfire Service are dealing with hot spots within the containment area.
The fire started as a small fire near the lake shore on Okanagan Centre Road West.
Lake Country Deputy Fire Chief Brent Penner says the wind moved it up quickly and crews couldn’t catch it until it reached the Nighthawk Road subdivison.
He says the first crew of firefighters did the best they could to attack it, but it had already gotten into some structures.
He says it ripped through the area at a phenomenal speed
It’s not clear how many homes have been destroyed, although there is an estimate of as many as 10.
Penner says they know where the fire started but at this point it’s to early to say how.
The fire is one of 162 burning across the province today.
Sixteen new fires started Saturday.
The Ashcroft Reserve fire is the largest at 45 thousand hectares, growing to the north since Friday due mainly to wind blowing the flames across tinder dry land.
Forests Minister John Rustad says the fight is huge.
“We have just about 2900 people that are on the fires, including 415 from out of province and about 928 contractors are also involved. There are 203 aircraft supporting ground crews as well as hundreds of other pieces of equipment.
A helicopter working in the Chilcotin crashed Saturday near the Hanceville fire.
The pilot was injured, but survived and was last reported to be in stable condition.
Details of the crash have not been released.
The BC Wildfire Service says the expected wind on Saturday had a major effect on forest fires in the interior of the province..
Kevin Skrepnek with the Wildfire Service says the Williams Lake and Ashcroft Reserve fires were of the greatest concern.
“Certainly an increase in activity right across the board. We were seeing violent fire behaviour out there on many instances. In some cases we did have to withdraw our own personnel from the fire line to ensure their safety.”
The Ashcroft fire is the largest at 42 thousand 300 hectares in size,hectares having grown to the north.
Skrepnek says there are clusters of fires in the Chilcotin that could merge into one and be of that size as well.
He says the White Lake fire closest to Williams Lake did cross the Fraser River and was burning 7 to10 kilometres north of the city.
The Princeton fire is estimated at 3278 hectares and is 40 per cent contained.
The Gustafsen fire near 100 Mile House is estimated at 5000 hectares and is 20 per cent contained.
Thirty-seven thousand people remain evacuated from their homes in BC due to wildfires.
It’s second only to 2003 when 50 thousand people were forced out, mainly due to the fires that ravaged the Kelowna area.
Robert Turner with Emergency Management BC says while the number is less, it’s a different situation in that multiple communities are affected.
“And that it’s early in the fire season and so the possible duration of this is different. So, we have not yet reached those numbers but it is in many ways a more complicated response because of the geographic scope.”
Turner says says the government assumes it will be in a response plan for another 60 days at least.
The Minister responsible for Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone says the response from communities and volunteers has been amazing.
He warns this may just be the beginning with many weeks to come of a challenging environment as we are on the front end of the fire season.
“This means there’s going to be ongoing risk for all British Columbians in the Interior, which means that all of us need to continue to be vigilant and be prepared to evacuate without the benefit of advance notice.”
Stone says the fire in Lake Country is a very sharp reminder of how fast a fire can start and spread and pose a significant risk to a community.
Emergency Management BC says it’s focus right now is ensuring people evacuated from fire zones have a place to go.
Turner says government assistance for evacuees is getting out.
The Red Cross has registered six thousand 765 households.
“That’s approximately 17 thousand people and registrations were coming in at 5 households per minute. There is zero wait times with the call-in centre.”
Turner says as of today, payments have gone out to five thousand 471 families, which is just over 80 per cent registered.
Deputy Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry says smoke isn’t the only health issue associated with the wildfires.
There’s the psychological aspect of dealing with fires and being evacuated.
“There has been calls for increased disaster psycho social and mental health support for the evacuees and our provincial disaster psycho social team and the Red Cross are deploying people in many communities.”
Dr Henry says it’s important for evacuees to make sure they eat and hydrate and connect with family and friends as much as they can
Anyone who feels they are having health concerns can call 8-1-1.
Longer and earlier forest fire seasons in North America are being tied to climate change.
The fires in BC have started earlier and the fires have been more ferocious.
Forests Minister Rustad says we definitely are seeing warmer, drier conditons but some areas of the province this year were a lot wetter.
“So it’s hard to say exactly what will happen with climate change throughout the area. What we do know though is the impact of the Mountain Pine Beetle and what it did through that area has left the forest with a fair bit of fuel.”
Rustad says it’s hard to say if that’s climate change.
He added the province hopes to renew a program with the federal government on fuel management and even change the composition of forests around communities so they are more fire resilient.