REVELSTOKE, B.C. — Crews fighting wildfires across British Columbia are once again preparing for challenges brought on by sweltering, windy weather as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to see fire damage for himself.
Trudeau, Premier John Horgan and several federal cabinet ministers are set to visit Williams Lake on Monday. About 10,000 people from the Interior community were forced from their homes more than two weeks ago as flames threatened to cut access to highways.
The group is to meet with military and RCMP members from a command centre in Williams Lake before visiting the fire centre and having a look at the fire zone from the air.
Residents of Williams Lake have been returning home for the past few days, but others in the region are still under evacuation orders.
Robert Turner with Emergency Management BC said about 6,000 people remained displaced on Sunday, including residents of the village of Clinton and surrounding areas, who were forced from their homes by rapidly moving flames Saturday night.
Thousands of others across the province are under evacuation alerts and have been told they may need to leave on a moment’s notice.
About 150 fires were burning across the province on Sunday and fire officials said more hot, windy weather could increase fire activity in coming days.
Environment Canada has forecasted rising temperatures up to and above 30 degrees Celsius for the southern Interior in the coming week, and the BC Wildfire Service has said the forests are much more dry than normal.
“Obviously, hot and dry conditions are ideal for fires to start and fires to spread quite quickly, so that’s definitely a concern for us right now,” said Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.
Flames from more than 800 fires have charred about 4,260 square kilometres throughout B.C. this fire season and the province has spent $172.5 million fighting the flames.
Skrepnek said this year has already become historic in terms of how much area has burned, becoming the third-worst season for land burned, behind 1961 when 4,830 square kilometres were charred and 1958, which saw 8,580 square kilometres scorched.
But the 1958 and 1961 totals are for entire fire seasons, which generally stretch into the fall. Because there’s so much fire season left, Skrepnek said it’s possible that this year’s total could climb above the 1961 level.
“Regardless of how we look at it, that … number is going to be historically significant,” he said.
Skrepnek said it will be good for Trudeau to come and see what impact the fires are having.
“Just given the scale of what’s happened out there, you know, the fact that we’re having, by all accounts, a historic crisis that’s been ongoing over the past few weeks, I think it’s good that the prime minister that’s coming out to see that first-hand,” Skrepnek said.
Trudeau was in Revelstoke Saturday urging Canadians to donate to the Red Cross to aid in relief efforts for fire-ravaged B.C. communities.
“I know that once again, as we have in challenges in the past, Canadians will step up, stand together and show their compassion,” Trudeau said.
— By Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver, with files from Dirk Meissner in Revelstoke
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the village of Clinton is north of 100 Mile House. It’s actually south.