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B.C. wildfire situation has ‘momentarily stabilized,’ number of evacuees falls to 8,000

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: More than 2000 homes still under evacuation order'
B.C. wildfires: More than 2000 homes still under evacuation order
WATCH: More residents are returning home in West Kelowna. As Erin Ubels reports, fire crews are now transitioning away from structural firefighting, with the focus now on wildfire service personnel battling the flames in the woods. – Aug 28, 2023

British Columbia emergency officials say the wildfire situation in the province’s Interior has “momentarily stabilized,” but significant risk remains.

As of Monday, the number of people under wildfire evacuation orders had dropped to about 8,000 — down from a peak of around 27,000 last week, Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma said.

Another 54,000 people remained under evacuation alerts.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: Monitoring the Grouse Complex firefight'
B.C. wildfires: Monitoring the Grouse Complex firefight

However, Ma said the hot and dry weather continues to exceed seasonal averages, meaning the situation could still take a turn for the worse.

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“We have all seen how quickly the situation can change in a 24-hour period. Please continue to be prepared, have an emergency plan and a grab and go kit ready for you, your family and your pets,” she said.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said B.C.’s Southern Interior could see rainy weather that will help with the firefight this week, but a ridge of  high pressure in the north has re-invigorated fires burning there.

He said Canadian Armed Forces members are being deployed to assist in the northern fire zone, and that an additional 200 South African wildfire fighters have also arrived in the province to help where needed.

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As of Monday, there were 3,500 people directly engaged in the province’s fire response, Ralston said.

“Although the road ahead is challenging, I want all those people to know that we are there for them when the time comes. But unfortunately we are still in the midst of one of our most challenging wildfire seasons on record. It is not over by any means,” Ralston said.

“The situation can change rapidly, people in wildfire areas need to remain vigilant and follow all evacuation alerts and orders.”

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna fire chief provides wildfire update'
West Kelowna fire chief provides wildfire update

With hundreds of homes destroyed across the Southern Interior, Ma said the province was also mobilizing mental health supports to families who have suffered loss.

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The province has deployed disaster psychological support teams to Emergency Support Service centres in the Interior, and is also offering support through the B.C. Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 — no area code needed.

“The impacts left by these fires are deep, but I know that it is not just the physical space that makes a home — it is the love, the memories and the shared experiences,” Ma said.

“I cannot comprehend the pain that many of you are going through at this time, but I do know that the spirit of British Columbians lives in our compassionate support for one another and that you are not alone. Your neighbors, your community and your province is with you.”

Ma said that the province had secured enough accommodations for anyone still under an evacuation order, and said anyone needing support who has not recieved it yet can call 1-800-585-9559.

She also said the province was working to help people in West Kelowna who went out of pocket for emergency accommodations due to Emergency Support Service delays when the McDougall Creek wildfire descended on the city.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfires: Minimal wind helps Shuswap fire fight'
B.C. wildfires: Minimal wind helps Shuswap fire fight

Officials are being told to review individual cases with “compassion and flexibility” with regards to reimbursing people. Anyone who found themselves in this situation can also call 1-800-585-9559 or contact the ministry by email at emmbc.ess@gov.bc.ca with details of their situation.

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The province will also conduct a detailed review of the delays, with the aim of ensuring similar issues do not occur during future emergencies, she said.

Residents are beginning to return home in phases in many parts of the province, discovering the extent of the damage from wildfires firsthand.

In the Okanagan, officials revised the number of damaged or lost structures from 181 to 189 on Monday, having had additional time to conduct site assessments.

As of last week, officials estimated at least 131 structures were lost in the Shuswap area due to the Bush Creek East wildfire, with another 37 partially damaged.

There are currently 12 wildfires of note burning in the province, meaning they threaten human safety or are highly visible from communities.

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