BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Wildfires: People Returning As Some Evacuation Orders Lifted

Ottawa is promising more funding to support residents.

07/22/2017 15:57 EDT | Updated 07/23/2017 10:46 EDT
THE CANADIAN PRESS
The area of Boston Flats, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, July 11, 2017 after a wildfire ripped through the area earlier in the week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Some people displaced by raging wildfires in British Columbia are heading home after evacuation orders were lifted.

Residents can start returning to several hundred properties around Princeton in the south Okanagan, a rural area in the Cariboo region north of Williams Lake and the community of 100 Mile House.

Air quality remains poor and an evacuation alert will remain in effect for the region as dry conditions persist.

Officials said residents returning to the 100 Mile House area will find it has been "profoundly affected" by wildfire and services such as grocery stores and heath care may be limited for some time.

Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government will supply $600 per household evacuated due to wildfires and $300 for their eventual return — funds that will be managed and distributed by the Canadian Red Cross.

"It will be a long haul and the Government of Canada fully intends to stand with the people of British Columbia every step of the way to participate in supporting the effort of getting things recovered and back to a normal life," he told a news conference in Kamloops on Saturday.

The total amount the government will be supplying is unclear, because Goodale said the number of evacuees is still fluctuating and the wildfire season in the province is only in beginning.

The provincial government has already provided $100 million to the Red Cross in response to the crisis.

Ralph Goodale/Twitter
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, second from left, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, to the right of him, met with provincial officials in Kamloops.

Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said approximately $10 million of that fund has been spent on the 44,000 people currently displaced and more money will follow as needed.

Goodale said not all the funding to the Red Cross will be directly given to households, but will support other initiatives to get communities functioning again.

He said following the fire in Fort McMurray, Alta., last year, the Red Cross distributed money to other social services in the community such as the Salvation Army and United Way, and also supported small businesses so people could get back to work.

Federal officials involved in the response to the fires, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, were in B.C. this weekend to assess the crisis and offer more support.

Sajjan said 250 members of the Canadian Armed Forces that were announced earlier this week to be supporting RCMP are now on the ground.

He said more military personnel and aircraft are on standby.

In addition to the funding for the Red Cross, officials said the Canada Revenue Agency is implementing emergency tax relief measures to help take pressure off people concerned about their families, homes and communities.

There are 161 active wildfires in the province, 14 of which started on Friday.

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B.C. Wildfires 2017

Fire information officer Navi Saini said windy conditions in the forecast for southern parts of the province Sunday could worsen the situation, particularly three major fires in the Cariboo region that crews have not been able to contain.

"The winds are something we will continue to monitor. It is something that can definitely increase fire behaviour," Saini said.

Some areas received rain earlier in the week, but Saini said it wasn't enough to douse the larger, highly active fires in the Cariboo region that have grown to tens of thousands of hectares in size.

Cariboo Regional District Chairman Al Richmond said officials are continuing to prepare for evacuees from Williams Lake to return home with plans to get emergency medical facilities running and to stock up grocery stores, but no date has yet been set for when the re-entry will happen.

There are 3,801 firefighters and personnel responding to the crisis across the province. Saini said Saturday the BC Wildfire Service has spent $122 million to date this season on fire suppression.

Earlier on HuffPost Canada: