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2017 wildfires exacerbate flood risk in B.C. Interior, as hundreds remain evacuated

A local state of emergency has been declared in the Village of Cache Creek due to rising water levels.
A local state of emergency has been declared in the Village of Cache Creek due to rising water levels. Simon Hergott/Global News

As hundreds of people are out of their homes due to flooding throughout B.C., last year’s wildfires could make things worse than usual.

“It’s really just the onset of the snow-melt season now and we see really high snow packs through huge areas in the southern Interior, the Okanagan, into the Kootenays and that central Interior area and those are all areas where there’s still lots of snow to come down so they’ll continue to be at risk,” Dave Campbell with the B.C. River Forecast Centre said.

Sandbags line the Bonaparte River and locals say there are streams in the community where there were never streams before.

“Normally what we expect to see is the flooding, or the chance of flooding, later in the spring… we are just in the end of April and we’ve already had catastrophic overflow of Cache Creek, which is a tributary of the Bonaparte River,” Cache Creek mayor John Ranta told Global News.

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“We wound up with the river overflowing over the sidewalk and that’s a 12-foot bank that’s there that filled up with water and with water flowing down the sidewalk and down the highway and spreading debris in people’s parking lots, you can still see it in town,” he added.

READ MORE: Cache Creek braces for more flooding as water levels expected to rise even higher

As low level snow pack rapidly melts in unseasonably warm weather, the rising Bonaparte River is causing deep concern.

“This year it’s a little larger concern than ever because of the Elephant Hill fire that happened last year. There’s really nothing holding back the snow pack,” Keith Zabotel of the Bonaparte Indian Band said.

In nearby Cherry Creek, banks are being reinforced as flood prep efforts continue and residents remain hopeful they’ve already seen the worst.

“The channel has washed deeper now, if we keep it in there, we’ll be alright,” Cherry Creek resident Brian Patterson said.

About 300 properties are under evacuation order or alert in the Tulameen area, near Princeton, because of an “immediate danger to life and safety” due to the rapidly rising Otter Lake, which has already flooded some homes.

READ MORE: Update on flooding in Tulameen, Oliver area

“This is definitely an area that has traditionally bad flooding but this year is exceptional,” Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) information officer Cameron Baughen said.

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There have been more evacuations in the Oliver area due to overreaching streams.

In Cawston, near Keremeos, a local state of emergency has been declared due to the threat of flooding.

Meanwhile, a landslide has prompted evacuations in the Killiney Beach area, located on the west side of Okanagan Lake.

READ MORE: Landslide prompts Killiney Beach evacuations

Further north, the Cariboo Regional District has declared a state of emergency for Electoral Area I and people have been forced to leave Nazko, West of Quesnel.

~ With files from Geoff Hastings and Estefania Duran