Western Canada wildfires may spread with more hot, dry weather

A helicopter returns from surveying some of the numerous wildfires as people fill up gas and food at a service station in Little Fort, British Columbia, Canada, on July 9, 2017.
A helicopter returns from surveying some of the numerous wildfires as people fill up gas and food at a service station in Little Fort, British Columbia, Canada, on July 9, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

KAMLOOPS, BRITISH COLUMBIA (REUTERS) - As Western Canada's British Columbia battled 220 wildfires scattered across the province on Sunday (July 9), officials warned that they expect greater devastation with forecasts of more hot, dry weather over the coming week.

"Looking at the medley of forecasts out there, it's certainly not optimistic," British Columbia's chief fire spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said at a press briefing. "We are going to be at the mercy of the weather."

The blazes took off on Friday, when 138 fires started as electrical storms and brisk winds passed through the interior of the bone-dry province, which has not seen significant rains for weeks.

British Columbia declared its first state of emergency since 2003, evacuated an estimated 7,000 residents from the path of the wildfires and deployed some 1,600 personnel to respond to the fires.

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Some 24,000ha were ravaged by wildfires as of midday on Sunday, according to official tallies. Mr Skrepnek said he believed the extent of the devastation was significantly higher. "We pray for rain, but our prayers aren't always answered," British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said while touring regional evacuation facilities in Kamloops, a town some 250km north-east of Vancouver.

She announced a C$100 million (S$107 million) fund for victims that the Canadian Red Cross will administer.

It is modelled after one set up after last year's Fort McMurray fire in the neighboring province of Alberta, one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history. It provides stipends of C$600 to help victims displaced by the fires as well as money to help rebuild after the blaze is extinguished, Ms Clark said.

Other assistance poured in from across Canada.

Canada's military agreed to supply airplanes and helicopters. Other jurisdictions agreed to send some 260 personnel to help.

Survivors of the May 2016 Fort McMurray blaze, which displaced 88,000 people and burned 590,000ha, organised a drive to send water, fuel and other supplies to British Columbia. "We've been through it. We know what it's like," Mr Marty Frost, a former Fort McMurray firefighter, told broadcaster CBC News Network.