A fire burning just five kilometres from Telegraph Creek on Aug. 8. (BC Wildfire Service)

A fire burning just five kilometres from Telegraph Creek on Aug. 8. (BC Wildfire Service)

Shovel Lake fire near Burns Lake is the largest active fire in B.C.

The blaze is 50,000 hectares B.C.’s chief fire information officer, Kevin Skrepnek, said.

The Shovel Lake fire northeast of Burns Lake is currently the largest active fire in the province at 50,000 hectares B.C.’s chief fire information officer, Kevin Skrepnek, said.

“[The] cluster of fires in the central part of the province from the Smithers to Prince George corridor is definitely a priority for us right now, and we [have been] and will continue to move in as many resources as we can to manage it, but of course we still do also have [over 560] fires across the province right now,” Skrepnek said.

“We have to balance tackling these major project fires, and give them the priority that they certainly deserve, with also making sure we’ve got adequate initial attack capacity for any new fires that start and for the hundreds of other fires burning across the province.”

Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development Doug Donaldson said he believes Telegraph Creek has been the most severely impacted in terms of structural damage.

“There was 27 structures impacted within [Telegraph Creek], and then another 20 outside of Telegraph Creek. Other areas are under evacuation order, and there have been some structures lost, but the main thing is public safety and there hasn’t been lives lost on this fire … we’re keeping public safety as number one,” said Donaldson.

A province-wide state of emergency has been declared due to the severe wildfire activity in British Columbia.

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the decision came after careful consideration.

“[It] will allow extraordinary powers for the province to be able to requisition equipment, [and] to be able to control entry to and from a particular area of British Columbia … The order will be in place for 14 days. It can be extended after that, and it can be rescinded at any time,” Farnworth said.

He reported that there are 53 evacuation alerts taking place that affect 23,550 people and 29 evacuation orders impacting some 3,060 people in the province.

Skrepnek said there are over 560 fires currently burning across the province, with 31 new fires having started on Aug. 14 alone.

“Since April 1, B.C. Wildfire Services responded to 1,821 fires that have burned a current estimate of over 381,000 hectares of land. Cost estimated to date, as of [Aug. 14] we were at $214 million.

“Certainly our fire fighting efforts right now are focused on protecting public safety, protection of property and infrastructure as well. We currently have almost 3,400 personnel working throughout the province – that’s including folks on the front line doing the firefighting, contractors, support staff, personnel working out of our coordination centres … over 400 folks from out of province [have] come to assist us, and over 1,400 contractors from the B.C. forest industry,” Skrepnek reported.

According to a press release from Emergency Management B.C., there are at least 436 personnel that have been brought in from other provinces, as well as Australia, Mexico, and New Zealand.

“We had 217 aircraft flying yesterday in support of our crews on the ground, helicopters and airplanes, and as it stands right now across the province 48 fires of note. That’s what we would classify as a fire either posing a threat to a community, or a potential threat, or highly visible. Certainly a high number by any stretch of the imagination, and quite evenly spread across all six of our regional fire centres,” Skrepnek said.

It was also announced that approximately 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces will be deployed by the federal government, likely in the Okanagan, to aid in what Skrepnek referred to as “mop-up”.

“We’re certainly not sending them out to fires as they’re starting. They’re not going to be front-line first responder firefighters … After it’s been largely contained, we get them on the ground to do a lot of the grunt work … extinguishing any hot spots remaining in the fire, kind of securing the perimeter of the fire, patrolling to make sure it doesn’t flare up, and then retrieving equipment.”

Donaldson said preparations for this year’s fire season started earlier than in previous years.

“We’ve brought crews on sooner, we’ve brought aircraft on sooner, we’ve tested new equipment when it comes to the mass distribution of water for protection of structures, and something that I’m really happy with is we increased … our stakeholder connections with First Nations, local equipment operators, industry, [and] local government much earlier than we did last year. This leads to more local knowledge being incorporated into our fire plans for each specific fire, as well as a better knowledge about what equipment is available to be used.”

Skrepnek said widespread rain across the province will be needed to alleviate the current situation, though the forecast is not promising.

“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at these fires, but in a lot of cases Mother Nature’s going to be in the driver’s seat in terms of the growth on them.”

This will be the second year in a row B.C. will declare a province-wide state of emergency due to wildfires. The province was in a state of emergency from July 7 – Sept. 15 last year.

“If you were to look at this date in 2017, that number was quite a bit lower. It was only about 150 fires,” Skrepnek said. “Of course, the key difference was that the fires we were managing in 2017 were massive in scale, hundreds of thousands of hectares in size, whereas this year we’re seeing more fires but generally they haven’t been reaching those huge magnitudes.”

For information on evacuation orders and alerts, go to emergencyinfobc.gov.bc.ca, and for updates on the provincial wildfire situation visit bcwildfire.ca.