With 161 wildfires burning across the central and southern Interior, the forecasted winds have residents in Williams Lake and north of Ashcroft preparing for the potential of having to evacuate.
“The wind event is gonna be upon us very shortly,” said Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for B.C. Wildfire Service. “The amplitude of it, the severity of it and the timing and is still very much in the air right now. It’s going to happen we just have to keep a close eye on how it unfolds.”
When those winds do arrive – moving at speeds up to 70 kilometres per hour – the fires could become quite wild in nature, Skrepnek said.
“We’re expecting very extreme and violently aggressive fire behaviour.”
Three new evacuation orders and three new evacuation alerts have been issued in the last 24 hours, including an order in Loon Lake and an alert for the Village of Clinton, due to to the Ashcroft Reserve fire moving north.
The Ashcroft fire saw “explosive growth yesterday evening,” Skrepnek said.
An estimated 17,400 evacuees have been forced from their homes, with a bit more than 80 per cent of households receiving their funds through the Canadian Red Cross.
As the wind picks up in Williams Lake, the fire of most concern remains the Hanceville/Chilcotin complex fire – a group of smaller fires burning at an estimated 40,000 hectares in size. The Wildwood fire, burning at 2,500 hectares just north of the city is currently 40 per cent contained, Skrepnek said.
But as residents within the city limits await to be told to flee, others have been awaiting to get back into their city through Highway 97 to prepare for the potential of an evacuation. That highway remains closed southbound, between Kersley and Williams Lake.
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Because of the evacuation alert, the southbound route opening is unlikely, said Mike Lorimer, a regional director at the Transportation Ministry.
“If we do get into a situation where an evacuation order is required, we certainly would not be encouraging folks to head south on that route,” he said, “but there is a procedure right now to come south from that point through the emergency operation centre through Williams Lake.”
The Cariboo Regional District has been contacted for confirmation.
As of 2 p.m. July 15, wildfires of note sit at:
Ashcroft Reserve– 14,700 ha
Princeton – 3,300 ha, 35 per cent contained
Gustafsen – 5,000 ha, 20 per cent contained
Wildwood – 2,500 ha, 40 per cent contained
Chilcotin complex (multiple fires) – 40,000 ha
Little Fort east – 1,400 ha, 20 per cent contained
Little Fort west – 450 ha, 40 per cent contained