Canada eases fire evacuation orders in British Columbia

Although evacuation orders have eased, there are still more than 380 fires burning across Canada.

Although evacuation orders have eased, there are still more than 380 fires burning across Canada. Photo: AAP

Canadian firefighters have begun easing evacuation orders in a scenic region of British Columbia, with the prospect of better weather raising hopes for the battle to contain wildfires.

To the north, in Northwest Territories, a weekend of cooler temperatures, favourable winds and some rain allowed fire teams outside the provincial capital of Yellowknife to shift their efforts to quelling the blaze after spending days just keeping it from advancing on the city.

Those are just two of the 386 wildfires that authorities said are burning in Canada, which has seen a record number of wildfires this year. The fires have chased tens of thousands of people from their homes and also sent smoke into parts of the United States.

Officials in southern British Columbia were optimistic about the battle against wildfires that raged for days in the Okanagan Valley in threatening towns in the Kelowna area, a summer destination about 150 kilometres north of the US border.

“I have to say that I really am beginning to feel that we are turning the corner here on this fire and a major measure of that is the rescinding of some evacuation orders,” West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund said on Tuesday.

“I feel like we might be turning the corner a bit on the weather as well.”

Brolund estimated the fire destroyed fewer than 70 structures in West Kelowna and fewer than 20 on Westbank First Nation lands. To date there have been no reports of loss of life or missing people.

About 27,000 people in British Columbia have been under evacuation orders, with 35,000 more under alert to be ready to evacuate on short notice.

British Columbia’s minister of emergency management said an order restricting travel to many communities in the province’s southern interior due to wildfires will be lifted at midnight. Bowinn Ma said non-essential travel to West Kelowna continues to be prohibited and people are being urged to stay away from the Lake Country and Shuswap areas.

In Yellowknife, officials said firefighters were shifting from defence to offence.

Until Monday, the teams had mostly focused on trying to stop the spread or reduce the intensity of the flames near Yellowknife. That meant building fire lines to rob the blaze of fuel or dropping water on it from the air.

Flames have been kept about 15km from Yellowknife, which was left virtually empty after nearly all 20,000 residents fled for safety last week.

Jennifer Young, information officer for the province’s emergency Management Organisation, said wildfires had caused 25,900 people to leave their homes in the territory, about 60 per cent of its population.

With Yellowknife a near ghost town, officials warned city employees, first responders and volunteers who remained behind to be aware of wildlife displaced by the wildfires. In a message posted on Sunday on Facebook, officials said bears and other animals had been reported roaming in the city.

The BC Wildfire Service said 100 firefighters from Mexico were expected to arrive in the province Tuesday and 200 from South Africa by the end of the week

In Northwest Territories, there have been efforts to transport evacuees’ pets to safety. On an emergency flight Monday, the California-based nonprofit group Wings of Rescue flew out 17 dogs, cats and other animals.

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