2017 officially B.C.’s worst ever wildfire season

Click to play video: 'The backcountry in the Cariboo is closed due to the wildfire threat.'
The backcountry in the Cariboo is closed due to the wildfire threat.
Aug. 11: The backcountry in the Cariboo is closed due to the wildfire threat – Aug 11, 2017

It’s official: with 894,491 hectares burned since April 1, B.C. is now facing its worst-ever wildfire season.

The previous record was set in 1958, when about 855,000 hectares were burned. Record keeping began in 1950.

The unprecedented year has seen 1,029 fires start across the province, costing $315.7-million to date.

About 3,900 personnel are currently on the ground working the fires.

By comparison, the challenging 2015 fire season saw 1,858 fires scorch 369,000 hectares at a cost of $297 million.

This year is also creeping up on 2009, the most expensive wildfire season on the books for B.C. That year, 3,064 fires burned 247,000 hectares at a cost of $382 million.

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“This year is far and away the worst we’ve ever seen in terms of the hectares burned,” said chief wildfire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

WATCH: Full coverage of B.C. wildfires

Residents of the Anahim and Nimpo Lakes areas were told Wednesday afternoon they could return home, with an evacuation order in that area now downgraded to an evacuation alert.

Twenty-seven evacuation orders remain in place across B.C., affecting close to 7,000 people.

A further 15 communities remain on evacuation alert.

Two of those alerts were lifted within the last day, including one for Williams Lake affecting about 11,000 people.

Skrepnek said conditions remain challenging for wildfire crews, with hot dry weather across southern B.C. and no rain in the forecast.

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He said an anticipated cold front could bring some relief on the weekend, but the weather also comes with the potential for winds that could fan flames, and thunderstorms which may produce dry lightning.

Meanwhile Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she’s working with Ottawa to help farmers and ranchers.

“[We are] ensuring animal health and saftey, feed, shelter and transportation costs and the cost to reestablish perennial crops and pasture production damage.”

Popham said the cost for that program is yet to be determined but is expected to be in the multi-millions.

RCMP provided an update on Wednesday about several suspected arsons.

Police said five men, all under the age of 18, had been arrested on suspicion of criminal arson in Williams Lake, after allegedly breaking into a home.

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In Alexis Creek, police said a trailer was destroyed about 40 kilometres from the community. The homeowner wasn’t there at the time, and Mounties are treating it as suspicious fire.

Police said arson investigations linked to the Elephant Hill and Lake County fires are ongoing.

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