Aug 20 (Reuters) – Canada is sending troops to fight fast-spreading wildfires in British Columbia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday, with more than 35,000 people under evacuation orders in the western province.
The province imposed a state of emergency late Friday, giving authorities more authority to deal with fire hazards. By Saturday, more than 35,000 residents were under evacuation orders, and another 30,000 were under evacuation warnings.
The McDougall Creek fire is centered in the city of Kelowna, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Vancouver, home to about 150,000 people.
But other blazes fueled by severe drought were reported near the U.S. border and in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, where separate wildfires killed at least one person and destroyed dozens of structures.
Canadian ministers and other government officials urged residents living in evacuation order zones to take immediate action in their own interests and those of firefighters.
British Columbia Premier David Eby also imposed a ban on non-essential travel on Saturday to free up shelter for evacuees and firefighters. Officials urged people to avoid visiting fire areas and avoid flying drones to take photos, which they said could interfere with firefighters’ work.
Officials have yet to provide an estimate of the number of buildings destroyed.
Trudeau said in a social media post that the federal government has agreed to send aid following a request from the BC government.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Canada, but fire spread and disturbance underscore the severity of its worst wildfire season.
The fires have drained local resources and have drawn federal aid and support from 13 states. At least four firefighters have died on the job.
About 140,000 square km (54,054 sq mi) of land, roughly the size of New York State, has already burned nationally, with plumes of smoke stretching up the US East Coast. State officials predict the fire season could last into the fall due to widespread drought-like conditions.
The heavens are on fire
About 2,000 km north in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, an out-of-control wildfire prompted the evacuation of its 20,000 residents last week.
Currently, the fire is not expected to reach city limits by the end of the week, with some rain and cooler temperatures helping to slow its progress, officials said.
Krista Flesjer, who left town with her dogs, said it was a tough trip.
“I was afraid we would get caught in the fire coming across the road,” she said.
For Flesger, the main concern is whether his two-year-old house will survive.
In British Columbia, the TransCanada Highway was closed near Chase, about 400 km northeast of Vancouver. The highway is a major east-west artery used by thousands of motorists and truckers en route to Vancouver, the nation’s busiest port.
Kip Lumquist, who works in a gift shop in Craigellachie, a tourist spot on the highway, said he had seen several vandalisms in the past week.
“It was crazy. We couldn’t see mountains, hills, trees, anything, probably (for two and a half days),” Lumquist said. “I drive a white vehicle and when I walk out to get in my car … it’s just black. … It’s devastating to the community.”
Across the border in Washington state, firefighters battled two major blazes, the Gray Fire and the Oregon Road Fire, which combined blackened more than 20,000 acres of forest land and destroyed more than 100 structures.
Washington wildfire officials confirmed at least one person died in the ash fire.
Reporting by Denny Thomas in Toronto and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles Editing by Mark Porter and Matthew Lewis
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