The number of people under evacuation orders in Canada’s western province of British Columbia more than doubled from the previous day on Saturday, as authorities warned of challenging days ahead.
As out-of-control fires ripped through interior British Columbia, partially closing some sections of a key highway connecting the Pacific coast to the rest of western Canada and destroying many properties, the province declared a state of emergency on Friday to gain temporary authoritative powers to combat fire-related risks.
“The current situation is grim,” Premier Daniel Eby told reporters on Saturday, saying some 35,000 people were under an evacuation order, and a further 30,000 were under an evacuation alert.
Eby said the province is in dire need of shelter for evacuees and firefighters and ordered a ban on non-essential travel to make more temporary accommodation available. Officials also urged residents to avoid operating drones in the fire zone, saying it could impede firefighting efforts.
The fire is centered around Kelowna, a city some 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Vancouver, with a population of about 150,000.
Forest fires are not uncommon in Canada, but the spread of blazes and disruption underscore the severity of its worst wildfire season yet.
About 140,000 square km (54,054 square miles) of land, roughly the size of New York state, have already burned, and government officials project the fire season could stretch into autumn due to widespread drought-like conditions in Canada.
B.C. had experienced strong winds and dry lightning in the past few days due to a cold mass of air interacting with hot air built-up in the sultry summer. That intensified existing forest fires and ignited new ones.
“We are still in some critically dry conditions, and are still expecting difficult days ahead,” said Jerrad Schroeder, deputy fire centre manager at the Kamloops Fire Centre.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened a meeting of key ministers and senior officials on Saturday to discuss wildfires. The Incident Response Group, which met for the second time this week, agreed to make “additional resources available” to both British Columbia and the Northwest Territories (NWT).