Fires strike British Columbia

Widespread wildfires in British Columbia have created the worst summer fire season in the history of that Canadian province.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | August 4, 2003



"This is the first time ever that we've had a state of emergency for the entire province."

—Steve Bachop


Widespread wildfires in British Columbia have created the worst summer fire season in the history of that Canadian province, said Steve Bachop, B.C. provincial fire information officer. Currently 336 fires are raging across the province, bringing the total number of fires this year to more than a thousand.

The current wave of fires began ten days ago, and has resulted in the destruction of more than 150,000 acres, he said. The dire situation even forced B.C. Premiere Gordon Campbell to issue the first-ever province-wide state of emergency.

"This is the first time ever that we've had a state of emergency for the entire province," Bachop said and that goes for any kind of emergency, not just fires. "This is the worst fire season we've had."

The fires have caused the evacuation of more than 10,000 people and destroyed at least 75 homes, 150 outbuildings and one large commercial sawmill, he said. Most of this damage has been caused by the McClure Barrier Fire, near the city of Kamloops, which lies about 160 miles northeast of Vancouver. The damage to the civil infrastructure there has been enormous, he said, and more than 700 firefighters are working in this area alone.

The extent of the damage is not precisely known at this point, because of the huge clouds of smoke obscuring the view of helicopter assessment teams, said Lynn Kailin, a spokeswoman for the Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Center.

"There are still active fires and the smoke is so thick that the damage assessments have been spotty," she said.

The primary reason for the extent and intensity of the fires, Bachop said, is the drought conditions that have persisted in the southern third of the province for the last two months.

"If someone tosses a cigarette away, we're likely to see 100 percent ignition," he said. "The potentials are higher than we've ever seen them before."

The fires are nowhere near containment, Bachop said, and are likely to keep burning well into August.

The Salvation Army is providing help at several emergency shelters in the province, said Jim Ferguson, spokesman for the Salvation Army in Ottawa. He said that about 30 Salvation Army workers are providing counseling and "personal services" to more than 2,800 people in shelters near Kamloops. Other crews are also helping in the towns of Vernon and Salmon Arm.

"There's a high demand at the moment for grief and crisis counseling," Ferguson said, especially since firefighters began to confirm residential destruction on Monday.

In addition, the Salvation Army has also taken over responsibility for donations management for the province, and will use a vacant Sears warehouse in Kamloops for this purpose, he said.

But perhaps the biggest concern right now, according to Ferguson, is for the city of Armstrong, which is now being threatened by the wildfires.

"If they have to evacuate there, that could be a fairly big undertaking," he said.


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