Massive western Canada wildfires forcing tens of thousands to flee towns

British Columbia is bracing for what fire officials are calling “the most challenging 24 to 48 hours of the summer,” as wildfires that have been wreaking havoc across western Canada are projected to intensify and affect more regions. Since the start of the week, over 370 wildfires have been reported across the province, as per the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC).

Two particularly destructive wildfires, the Stein Mountain wildfire, first reported on July 12, and the McDougall Creek Wildfire, discovered on Tuesday, are currently classified as “out of control.” Together, they have scorched approximately 790 hectares as of Thursday evening, as reported by the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

Cliff Chapman, the British Columbia director of wildfire operations, anticipates an escalation in the number of wildfires. He stated, “We are expecting significant growth and we are expecting our resources to be challenged from north to south in the province over the next 48 hours.” He further warned that the fires would strain both air and ground resources as new fires are likely to break out across the province.

High winds in western Canada have been fueling the spread of the wildfires, officials reported. Several towns and cities in British Columbia have issued evacuation orders and alerts in response to the wildfires. A local state of emergency was declared for the city of West Kelowna, a part of Westbank First Nation, and the Central Okanagan West Electoral on Thursday. Sixty-eight properties off Bear Creek Road were ordered to evacuate.

Residents of Yellowknife, Hay River, and Fort Smith were also instructed to evacuate this week due to the fires. Chapman cautioned that 28 of B.C.’s 34 water basins are currently operating at the worst or second-worst drought levels while battling the fires. He stated, “So the drought situation is serious in British Columbia…and the impacts of drought conditions in certain B.C. watersheds will be serious as well.”

This summer, Canada has experienced an increase in wildfires on both coasts, resulting in black smoke spreading for miles and even reaching the United States. As of Thursday, the fires have consumed 13.9 million hectares this season, making it the worst wildfire season on record, according to the CIFFC.