KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Wildfires have destroyed more than 300 buildings across British Columbia as smoke creates visibility problems for crews expecting to fight more fires in the coming days, officials say.
The lost structures include 71 homes, 116 outbuildings such as sheds and barns, and three commercial buildings, said Robert Turner with Emergency Management BC. Another 115 destroyed buildings have yet to be identified.
Turner said the Cariboo Regional District, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the Ashcroft Indian Band have been the hardest hit by the losses, but no critical infrastructure has been wiped out.
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Flames have also damaged or destroyed about 100 kilometres of fencing along B.C. highways, the province said in a news release Tuesday.
The government has announced $6.2 million in funding to help repair and replace the fencing and range infrastructure, including watering facilities and cabins wiped out by the flames.
More than 840 fires have charred about 4,260 square kilometres in B.C. since April 1, and Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Service said hot, dry weather is expected to worsen conditions in the days ahead as smoke hangs over several communities.
“It creates a lot of safety issues for our aircraft,” he said. “We can’t fight what we can’t see out there.”
The Kamloops Airport tweeted Tuesday that smoke had forced several flights in and out of the area to be delayed or cancelled.
About 3,700 people were fighting 138 fires across British Columbia on Tuesday, including 761 fire personnel from outside of the province.
Another 108 firefighters and support staff from Mexico are set to join them later this week, marking the first time crews from that country have fought wildfires in B.C.
The Mexicans have been deployed to Alberta several times, Skrepnek said.
“They’re going to be valuable assets to us, just given what we’ve got,” he said. “There’s really no relief in sight.”
It’s common for people in the wildfire industry to work in different jurisdictions, and British Columbia’s need currently outstrips crews that are available elsewhere in Canada, Skrepnek said.
“No agency can be prepared for their highest potential fire season,” he said.
With record-breaking temperatures expected across much of the province, it will be increasingly important to ensure crews get proper hydration, nutrition and rest, Skrepnek added.
Plans are also in place in case anyone needs to be airlifted out of a fire zone due to heat-related illness, but Skrepnek said he believes that hasn’t happened yet this season.