With hundreds of active fires burning in B.C. and hundreds of people forced to flee from their homes, the Wildfire Service is raising some concerns about the people who are choosing to stay behind in an evacuation order zone.
The Service told Global News it is an issue around the province but they have had a few incidents recently in relation to the Sparks Lake wildfire, burning north of Kamloops Lake.
This wildfire is huge. It remains the biggest in the province and is currently bigger than the size of Gabriola Island, at more than 58 square kilometres.
The Thompson Nicola Regional District confirmed Tuesday this fire has prompted the evacuation order of 295 addresses and the evacuation alert of 394 addresses.
Rob Schweitzer, the director of Fire Centre Operations for the BC Wildfire Service said during a media briefing Tuesday that over the past weekend there have been several reports of individuals not heeding evacuation orders in connection with a number of fires burning around the province.
This has resulted in at least three situations where the Wildfire Service had to divert aircraft and crews to rescue people trapped behind the fire lines, Schweitzer added.
“The ability to keep yourself and your family safe may be severely impacted,” Schweitzer said, adding people may find their anticipated evacuation routes blocked or access to communications impeded if they do not leave the area within the stated time.
“Please heed those warnings, please heed those times so we can keep everyone safe these fire seasons,” Schweitzer said.
“Even our seasoned firefighters are seeing behaviour and conditions that we have not seen (before). The behaviour and the traits over the last few years is something that is much different than the past.”
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Since April 1, crews have responded to 1,230 fire ignitions, which has led to 425 square kilometres burned — a size just under the land area of Montreal.
There are 253 active fires and 38 wildfires of note. Schweitzer said 174 are suspected to have been started by natural causes and 15 are suspected to be human-caused.
Right now there are 3,650 personnel engaged in fire response efforts, including 318 who are from out of the province. There are 198 aircraft in use to fight the fires.
Schweitzer said the lack of lightning recently has meant there has been less growth on many of the fires so that has allowed crews to make progress on the blazes.
However, there has been more stagnant smoke, which not only hinders aircraft to fight the fires but can be a health risk.
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In total, there are 61 evacuation orders in the province, about 3,700 properties, and 85 evacuation alerts, about 18,000 properties.
The Wildfire Service said residents faced with evacuation orders need to know that many critical support services may not be available during a wildfire event, including:
- Emergency responder services: police, fire, ambulance, search and rescue.
- Health-care services such as hospitals and clinics: Such facilities will be closed, community care will not be provided by regional health authorities, and staff and physicians typically would evacuate.
- Critical utility services such as electricity, natural gas, water, or communications technology: Loss of these services may also impact water supplies used to protect structures from fire.
- Logistical support and basic supplies: Provision of food, water, medical supplies, fuel or other critical resources.
- Communication tools: Cell service, telephone landlines and internet access may be overwhelmed or blocked, limiting the ability to access critical information such as road closures, weather information and wildfire updates.
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