Canada: Thousands flee cities in British Columbia as wildlife rages

Hundreds of separate fires raged in West Kelowna and the city of Yellowknife

CANADA-WILDFIRES/ A view shows wildfires in Squilax, British Columbia, Canada | Reuters

Over 15,000 households were evacuated in Canada's British Columbia on Saturday as wildfires raged through the interior of the province resulting in a partial shutting of some sections of a key highway between the Pacific coast and western Canada.  

The province that declared a state of emergency on Friday saw hundreds of separate fires in West Kelowna and the city of Yellowknife as the country grapples with its worst wildfire season. 

The fires near Kelowna, about 90 miles (150 kilometres) north of the US border, are among more than 380 blazes across the province, with 150 burning out of control, according to the Canadian Press. Another 236 fires are burning in the Northwest Territories.

 West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund told BBC that the wildfire were  "devastating". "We fought hard last night to protect our community. We fought 100 years' worth of fires all in one night," he added.

Officials report that the fire inflicted "significant structural loss" in the area, including in Trader's Cove, just north of West Kelowna.

Meanwhile, in Yellowknife, firefighters managed to contain the flames 15 kilometres from the city, which is the capital of the Northwest Territories. "We're by no means out of the woods yet," Mike Westwick, wildfire information officer for Yellowknife, told The Associated Press. "We still have a serious situation. It's not safe to return."

Though the fire is not expected to reach city limits by the end of the weekend, thanks to the rain and cooler temperatures, the situation may change as officials have predicted a drier and windier weather forecast for the coming days. 

Shane Thompson, the province's minister of environment and climate change, said the fires near Yellowknife had not grown very much in the past few days thanks to breaks in the weather. "But I want to be clear, a little bit of rain doesn't mean it's safe to come back home," he said. 

Authorities asked residents to stay away from the town. "This fire's taking a nap. It's going to wake up and we still got a serious situation to handle here," Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty told AP. Over 20,000 residents of the town have left Yellowknife leaving it a virtual ghost town. 

Canada has seen a record number of wildfires this year that have caused choking smoke in parts of the US. All told, there have been more than 5,700 fires, which have burned more than 137,000 square kilometres from one end of Canada to the other, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

According to Province  Premier David Eby, the situation changes very quickly. He said he was restricting non-essential travel to fire-affected areas to free up accommodations such as hotels, motels and campgrounds for displaced residents and firefighters.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who met Friday with some of the Yellowknife evacuees, hailed firefighters, police, military personnel, the Red Cross and others who responded to the fires and other natural disasters this summer. "Terrible loss, increased extreme weather events. And all through it, we've seen Canadians step up," he told reporters in Edmonton.

The TransCanada highway was closed near Chase, around 400 km northeast of Vancouver, and between Hope, 150 km east of Vancouver. The highway is the main east-west artery used by thousands of motorists and truckers heading to Vancouver, the country's busiest port.

(With inputs from agencies)


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