B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires grow, forcing more evacuations

A provincewide state of emergency has been declared in B.C. as wildfires continue to grow, forcing hundreds from their homes and putting thousands more on evacuation alert. 

It comes after days of calls from local municipal leaders for the province to declare a state of emergency. 

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the declaration will help deal with the mass evacuations quickly and allow the government to secure accommodation for those people if necessary. 

Nearly 300 fires were burning across the province on Tuesday, including several that were encroaching on communities that have issued evacuation orders or alerts.

There are more than 40 evacuation orders affecting about 5,700 people or almost 2,900 properties in the province. There are also 69 evacuation alerts affecting just under 33,000 people and about 16,000 properties. 

“We have reached a critical point,” Farnworth said.

More than 3,000 square kilometres of land have been burned by 1,145 wildfires in B.C. this season so far, which is three times the 10-year average for this time of year, according to B.C. Wildfire Service director of operations Cliff Chapman.

The state of emergency will stay in effect for 14 days but may be extended as needed.

Nk’Mip Creek fire more than doubles in size

The Nk’Mip Creek fire continues to burn on Osoyoos Indian Band land between the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos, about 40 kilometres south of Penticton. The B.C. Wildfire Service had previously referred to the fire as the Inkaneep Creek wildfire, but changed the name on Tuesday.

As of 2:30 p.m. PT, the fire was estimated to cover 20 square kilometres — up from seven square kilometres on Monday night. 

Those fighting the fire Tuesday are up against unrelenting wind, which has been blowing flames across tinder-dry terrain.

“Crews have been quite challenged by these steady winds,” said Taylor MacDonald with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The Oliver Fire Department posted a brief video Tuesday showing the fire in its early stages. The post said crews worked in shifts through the night to protect buildings from the flames.

Frantic evacuations

Hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate properties Monday after the wildfire exploded in size.

Geraldine and Rod Foley fled their home near Mount Baldy in rural Oliver with a few treasured photos and their pets: eight dogs, two cats and two parrots.

“From our balcony, you could see the smoke. It was horrendous. Then all of a sudden, within five minutes, the flames were just booming up in the air,” Rod said Tuesday. 

A regional official “walked up the hill and yelled, ‘You gotta go, now,'” he said. 

Geraldine took half the animals with her in the truck, and Rod rode behind with the other half inside the couple’s motorhome, where they plan to stay.

Geraldine said her son, a firefighter, told her they could be in danger of losing the home to the fire if the wind shifts.

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