Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, July 9, 2017 7:15AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 9, 2017 6:49PM EDT
KAMLOOPS, B.C. — There is no end in sight to the wildfires in British Columbia that have forced thousands of people from their homes and destroyed hundreds of square kilometres of land.
Provincial officials say that more gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are in the weather forecast, meaning the number of people evacuated is likely to rise from the latest estimate of 7,000.
“The situation around evacuation alerts and orders could be quite fluid,” said Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, on Sunday.
“I would anticipate there would be expansions over the next few days.”
Hundreds of fires covering an area of more than 236 square kilometres has destroyed homes. B.C. announced a $100-million fund to help communities and residents rebuild, while the federal government is sending aircraft.
Christy Clark, the outgoing premier, announced the fund Sunday in Kamloops. She said $600 will be made immediately available by electronic transfer through the Red Cross to people who have registered after being forced from their homes.
“We are just, in many ways, at the beginning of the worst part of the fire season and we watch the weather, we watch the wind, and we pray for rain,” she said.
“But our prayers aren’t always answered in these things and so we need to be there to support people in the meantime because there are hundreds and hundreds of people who are scared to death right now.”
She said the transition team for premier-designate John Horgan’s incoming government has been briefed on the establishment of the fund.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan accepted a request from B.C. for federal assistance.
“My thoughts and prayers are with those displaced and affected,” he said in a statement. “I am heartened by the resilience, co-operation and courage demonstrated by the communities and emergency personnel facing this quickly evolving situation.”
Three Canadian Armed Forces Griffon helicopters were expected to arrive in Kelowna on Sunday and some larger fixed-wing aircraft are to arrive over the next few days, said Chris Duffy, executive director of Emergency Management BC.
Duffy said the aircraft would be on standby and ready to help wherever they were needed, but that they would not be assisting with fire suppression at this time.
Ground and air crews battled 220 wildfires across B.C. on Sunday.
The hardest-hit regions were the central and southern Interior. There were also major blazes burning in northern B.C. but they weren’t posing as immediate a threat, said Skrepnek.
A provincewide state of emergency was declared Friday after about 140 new fires ignited and crews grappled with intense winds. The government said the state of emergency allows it to more easily co-ordinate a response to the crisis.
On Saturday, 98 new fires sprang up and existing fires grew in size, Skrepnek said.
The four biggest fires ranged in size from about 20 to 44 square kilometres and drove thousands from their homes in the communities of Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 100 Mile House, 105 Mile House, 108 Mile House, 150 Mile House and the Alexis Creek area.
Dozens of public parks in the Cariboo and Chilcotin region were closed to the public.
The province has been marshalling all the personnel it can to battle the flames, protect property and try to keep people safe.
The BC Wildfire Service employs more than 1,000 firefighters and all were either deployed or on days of rest. At least 200 contractors backed them up, while an additional 300 firefighters being recruited from other parts of Canada and are expected to arrive on Monday and Tuesday.
Despite the crews’ efforts, Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta said a fire burning between Ashcroft and Cache Creek had destroyed dozens of buildings, including at least five houses, 30 trailer park homes and two hangars at a regional airport.
B.C. has seen 552 fires to date in 2017, about half of which broke out over the past few days. Skrepnek said the province had spent $46 million fighting wildfires this year as of end-of-day Friday.