Firefighters work 'through the night' near Ashcroft, B.C., as 306 blazes burn

Province urges B.C. residents fleeing smoky skies to leave fully booked hotels to wildfire evacuees

More than 300 fires were burning across British Columbia as of Sunday morning, with wildfire crews particularly focused on controlling a 50-square-kilometre blaze near Ashcroft in the province's central Interior.

The blaze near Ashcroft, raging just 8.5 kilometres south of the town, saw firefighters struggling all night to contain an "out of control" wildfire, which has put the municipality of Ashcroft and Ashcroft Indian Band land under evacuation alert.

"Crews worked throughout the night to establish control lines with heavy equipment and Structure Protection personnel are on site today," the B.C. Wildfire Service said on its website Sunday morning. "The overnight crews reinforced the heavy machine guard on the west side of the fire and it was held throughout the day.

"However, the east flank of the fire is being significantly challenged by winds."

BC Wildfire stats - July 19 update

Later Sunday, the service restricted anyone from entering the area where fire suppression efforts for the Tremont Creek wildfire was taking place.

The restricted area stretches from Highway 1 south of Ashcroft to west of Kamloops Lake and as far south as Forge Mountain.

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Meanwhile, authorities pleaded Sunday with residents fleeing smoky skies to stay with friends or family, in order to leave hotel rooms free for actual wildfire evacuees with "no other option."

Andrew Morton, senior regional manager for Emergency Management B.C., said accommodations in the Thompson-Okanagan region are limited. The area is popular for tourists at this time of year.

"People who are self-evacuated to larger communities due to smoky conditions should consider returning home," Morton said.

"The smoky conditions will shift and move and self-evacuating to another community will not guarantee your ability to escape the smoke."

Morton said emergency personnel are working to keep evacuees as close to their home towns as possible, but in some cases they may be asked to travel a few hours away.

He recommended that anyone under evacuation alert make a plan to stay with family and friends if possible.

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Almost a third of the current 306 active fires are in the Kamloops region, according to provincial data. There are also significant wildfires burning in the Prince George fire region and in the province's southeast.

At least two new evacuation orders have been issued since Saturday evening, including orders to leave 60 properties just west of Kamloops Lake in the Walhachin area, and another order to evacuate properties near Gustafsen and Neilson lakes near 100 Mile House. There are also new area restrictions on people visiting areas in the Cranbrook area.

More than 20 other communities remain under evacuation alerts, meaning residents must prepare to abandon their properties on short notice.

The province blames almost 400 of this year's more than 1,100 total wildfires on human activities, although lightning has been responsible for the majority of fires.

"Be extremely cautious when recreating in the backcountry and to not engage in any activity that could spark a wildfire," the B.C. Wildfire Service said in a tweet Saturday evening. "Extreme heat and persistent dryness across much of the province have raised wildfire risk to critical levels."

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately.

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

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Evacuees are encouraged to register online with Emergency Support Services, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.


This story was originally published by CBC News on July 18, 2021.

Thumbnail courtesy of B.C. Wildfire Service on Twitter.