BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Fires: Officials Expect 30 New Cases Every Day

07/07/2015 02:38 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - All available crews have been committed to fight against British Columbia's burning forests, a situation that has forced officials to triage response to the worst fires and call in reinforcements from as far away as Australia.

On Tuesday, 184 fires were burning across B.C., engaging more than 1,000 personnel and triggering evacuation orders and alerts, as well as air-quality advisories.

Kurtis Isfeld of the BC Wildfire Service said 23 of those fires had broken out Monday and the ministry predicts 30 new wildfires will start every day as dry conditions grow more acute.

"The availability of resources is at a critical level, and any significant increase in fire load will be difficult for us to manage," he said.

"As such, we've begun prioritizing fires based on human life and safety, property, critical values, critical habitat and timber, and before any of those the safety of our responders will come first and foremost."

He said all the service's available crews are engaged around the province, including 622 contractors.

The government had already spent more than $90 million this season fighting the fires, well over the $63 million set aside in the budget.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said 70 firefighters from Ontario were expected to arrive in B.C. on Tuesday, and the province will be getting help from Australian crews, while firefighters from New Zealand will likely head to Alberta.

Thomson said he didn't have specific numbers of how many firefighters would be coming from Australia and New Zealand.

Smoke from two wildfires near Whistler is contributing to very poor air quality in the town renowned for its outdoor activities.

Environment Canada's air quality health index lists the risk for Whistler at 10, and everyone, especially people with respiratory problems or related concerns, is being warned to stay indoors if possible.

Dr. James Lu of Vancouver Coastal Health said air-quality advisories are also still in place in the Sea-to-Sky corridor, the Sunshine Coast, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley because of air pollution from the smoke.

He said the advisories will remain in effect, even though the air quality has improved.

"Our primary concern from a public-health perspective is for certain sensitive or more vulnerable populations, and these are the very young, the very old and particularly those people with chronic lung-heart conditions and diabetes," he said.

Fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said eight evacuation orders and alerts have been triggered because of the fires' proximity to residences.

An evacuation alert was issued for properties along Highway 3A because of a fire east of Nelson, B.C., as well as another near Sechelt, where residents in 18 seasonal properties had to leave on Monday night.

Steep terrain near the Dog Mountain fire close to Port Alberni on Vancouver Island is also proving to be a challenge for crews, Skrepnek said, adding people staying in cabins were ordered out on the weekend.

"Western Canada is incredibly active right now and we've certainly got a pretty dynamic situation here but it pales in comparison to what's going on in Saskatchewan in terms of their evacuations."

About 9,000 people have been forced from their homes in more than 50 communities in the northern part of that province.

B.C. has also imposed a campfire ban across the province, including the so-called fog zone, which covers some of the dampest regions along the coast.

Fire information officer Marg Drysdale said it's been many years since a campfire ban covered the fog zone, but the unprecedented dry conditions have made that necessary.

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