“We are facing the worst wildfire season in our province’s history,” British Columbia’s Premier David Eby told a news conference Friday evening. “In just the last 24 hours, the situation has evolved and deteriorated quite rapidly.”
“If you get an evacuation order, please leave,” he said. “The situation is unpredictable right now and there are certainly difficult days ahead.”
British Columbia’s Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said at least 15,000 people were ordered to evacuate around the province, and some 20,000 more people were under evacuation alert — asked to be ready if they need to leave.
Authorities urged people to avoid nonessential travel to affected areas in part to ensure roads are clear for firefighters, first responders and evacuees. As emergency services warned that wind might “worsen wildfire conditions and possible new fire starts,” photos showed flames burning on hillsides near Okanagan Lake. The blaze consumed the Okanagan Lake Resort, Canada’s public broadcaster reported.
Earlier on Friday, West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund told reporters the fires had been “devastating.”
“We fought a hundred years worth of fires all in one night,” he said.
Flames threatening Kelowna and West Kelowna are among 380 active wildfires burning across the British Columbia, according to the province’s wildfire service. Dozens of the fires are classified as “out of control.”
The warnings in British Columbia came after residents of Yellowknife, farther north, evacuated by road and by air under an order for the entire capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories — more than 20,000 people — to flee a wildfire nearing the city. Officials said almost all of Yellowknife’s residents had now left, urging those who remained to flee to safety.
In a summer of record heat around the world, soaring temperatures, intensified by climate change and coupled with existing drought conditions, has added to the severity of Canada’s wildfire season this year. Hundreds of wildfires across Canada have burned twice as much land in the country as any previous season — an area equivalent to Alabama.
In British Columbia, officials have reported record-challenging temperatures and dry air massed, exacerbating drought conditions and heightening the risk of wildfires.
Canadians have supported each other through what “has been a very difficult summer for people across this country,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said late Friday after meeting with evacuees in Edmonton, Alberta, where an expo center is hosting people who fled the Northwest Territories. “Wildfires in just about province across this country, terrible loss, increased extreme weather events, and all through it, we’ve seen Canadians step up,” he said.