KAMLOOPS (British Columbia) • Some 180 wildfires raged over a massive section of Western Canada's British Columbia on Saturday, prompting the evacuation of 3,000 households and the province's first state of emergency in 14 years.
The blazes were scattered across hundreds of kilometres of the interior portion of the province, burning through bone-dry forests used for logging and rolling grasslands that are home to ranches. High temperatures and winds complicated firefighting efforts.
"The weather situation is not favourable," said provincial minister in charge of firefighting operations John Rustad. "There is very aggressive fire behaviour that makes it very difficult to directly attack."
The spate of wildfires began last Friday, when 138 new fires were reported, most of them sparked by lightning in dry electrical storms.
No injuries or deaths were reported. Provincial officials said they did not know how much damage had been caused, though evacuees said they had left behind farm animals and witnessed destruction of homes and other buildings.
Some evacuees made their way to a makeshift emergency centre at a sporting facility in Kamloops, some 250km north-east of Vancouver.
Evacuees exchanged stories about efforts to protect their homes before fleeing spreading fires at the centre where they were offered food, shelter and medical assistance. Dogs and other pets were taken to another shelter where they were fed and sheltered from the hot summer sun. No deaths or injuries were reported. The province is home to farmers, energy firms, miners and recreational facilities, including ski resorts.
"Fires are being reported faster than they can be written down - all over the Cariboo," the Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre said late last Friday on its Facebook page. "If you are told to evacuate from your property, please leave immediately. These fires are extremely volatile."
Chalky red fire retardant dust was splashed on some vehicles that passed through areas that were sprayed with the substance from "water bomber" planes used to fight the fire.
Canada's federal government last Saturday offered to help British Columbia respond to the fast-spreading wildfires, though provincial authorities said they may have enough resources.
Mr Rustad said that he expected about 260 personnel from other jurisdictions in Canada to support a team of more than 1,600 people helping respond to the fire. "We are bringing a tremendous amount of resources to bear," he said, noting that their main priority was "to keep people safe".
British Columbia last declared a state of emergency in August 2003, which was also to deal with wildfires.