KELOWNA, British Columbia: Thousands of British Columbia residents were on high evacuation alert on Saturday (Aug 19) after rapidly intensifying wildfires forced the western Canadian province to declare a state of emergency.
The Pacific province has seen strong winds and dry lightning in the past 36 hours due to a cold mass of air interacting with hot air built-up in the sultry summer. That intensified existing forest fires in the province and ignited new ones.
By Friday, an out-of-control fire in southern British Columbia grew more than a hundredfold in 24 hours and forced more than 2,400 properties to be evacuated.
The fire was centred around Kelowna, a city some 300 kilometres east of Vancouver, with a population of about 150,000.
As conditions continued to deteriorate quickly through Friday evening, Premier Daniel Eby declared a province-wide state of emergency to access temporary authoritative powers to tackle fire-related risks.
“This is an historic wildfire season for British Columbia,” Eby told a briefing.
About 15,000 people were under evacuation orders Friday evening, and another 20,000 are under an evacuation alert. The province currently accounts for over a third of Canada’s 1,062 active fires.
“The state of emergency declaration … communicates to people across the province the seriousness of the deteriorating situation,” Eby said.
“(It) enables a number of legal tools for us to issue specific orders and to ensure that resources are available.”
The flames have already destroyed several structures in West Kelowna and authorities have been warning that the province could potentially face the worst couple of days of the fire season this year.