PORT HARDY, B.C. — Dozens of wildfires burning across British Columbia are forcing residents from their homes, with two communities declaring states of emergency.
Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood said a state of emergency was issued Saturday morning after a 16-hectare fire caused the evacuation of about 100 residences.
"We're hopeful, but it's still a very volatile situation," he said.
Crews were responding to several new blazes on Saturday as close to 170 wildfires raged across the province. The Squamish Lillooet Regional District also issued a state of emergency due to a 500-hectare fire northwest of Pemberton.
The fire in Port Hardy is extremely unusual, said Bood, as it typically has a wet climate but has not had rain in two months.
He warned residents to obey a campfire ban issued by the B.C. government for the entire province, apart from a two-kilometre strip on Vancouver Island.
"People in the north island need to understand that we are in a very unusual place," he said. "We're not fooling around anymore."
Declaring a state of emergency will allow the district to bill the province for expenses it incurs during the blaze, he added.
The fire is believed to be human-caused. It began Friday night on the Tsulquate River, a heavily timbered area about 1.5 kilometres west of Port Hardy.
Donna MacPherson of the B.C. Wildfire Service said when the fire started, strong winds were blowing sparks into the air, creating a small spot fire in the area about 1 hectare in size.
She said retardant drops completed by air tankers Friday night helped contain the main blaze. On Saturday, crews were working on the edges of the fire and helicopters were dumping large amounts of ocean water.
MacPherson said temperatures are 12 to 18 degrees hotter than they normally are this time of year.
"We're asking anybody: If you see a tree, stop and think," she said. "Think about whatever it is you're doing that might start a forest fire. We don't need any more."
The Squamish Lillooet Regional District issued its state of emergency on Saturday after the Boulder Creek fire about 23 kilometres northwest of Pemberton grew to 500 hectares.
The district also ordered the evacuation of two mines, of which one was inactive, and an independent power project.
Meanwhile on Saturday, an additional 40 firefighters and support staff were brought in to battle a blaze in the Okanagan, bringing the total number of crew members to more than 60.
The blaze prompted the evacuation of 142 homes in the Joe Rich area of Kelowna. Officials said on Saturday the fire was 50 per cent contained and down to 55 hectares from 80.
Highway 33 was open to single-lane alternating traffic through the fire zone but the speed limit was reduced. RCMP set up road blocks at Goudie Road and Cardinal Creek Road to prevent access to the evacuated area.
Crews responded to several new wildfires on Saturday, including one near Blueberry Creek, about one kilometre west of Castlegar. The blaze didn't threaten any structures but was highly visible from the city and Highway 3.
The B.C. Wildfire Service also warned that smoke from two lightning-caused wildfires could drift into the communities of Bella Coola, Houston, Burns Lake, Southside and Francois Lake.
The Kapella River fire had burned about 600 to 1,000 hectares about 77 kilometres northwest of Bella Coola, while the Europa Lake fire had burned about 10 hectares about 86 kilometres southeast of Kitimat.
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Laura Kane, The Canadian Press