Wildfires in Canada, California force thousands to evacuate

CJ Summers described the fire that destroyed two of his family’s barns like something out of an action movie.

“It looked just like a wall of fire,” he said. “It sounded like a jet engine, like a tidal wave.”

Summers, a 31-year-old who lives in Vancouver, grew up on his parents’ ranch. He and his brother were on the ranch when a fire traveled from the forest nearby, eventually igniting some of their property and destroying two of their barns.

And they’re not alone.

There were 202 wildfires burning in Canada’s British Columbia province by Tuesday night and 14,000 people had been forced to evacuate their homes.

On Monday, 39 new fires began, said Kevin Skrepnek, Chief Fire Information Officer for the British Columbia Wildlife Service. Since the start of the wildfire season on April 1, the province has seen 604 fires, with the damage estimated at $53.5 million Canadian dollars (US $41 million).

The hot, dry conditions that create the blazes are expected to persist in the coming days, he said, with potential winds and lightning threatening to make the situation worse.

Several of the fires in the southern region of British Columbia — those near Ashcroft, Princeton and 100 Mile House — are together burning 70,000 hectares, officials said, or more than 170,000 acres.

Authorities estimate 14,000 people have been evacuated, according to Robert Turner, British Columbia’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Emergency Management.

Military assistance has been brought in to help the 1,000 fire personnel currently fighting the fires, which are mostly in rural areas.

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said in a news conference Monday that an additional 300 personnel were on their way to assist. British Columbia also enlisted the help of the Canadian Armed Forces’ aircraft to help transport the more than 1,000 fire personnel currently fighting the fires, Goodale said.

The fires have left thousands without power, according to BC Hydro and Power Authority, one of the province’s electricity distributors, which said it had 100 crews working to repair electrical infrastructure.

But officials believe there’s a long way to go before the fires are brought under control.

Evacuee: ‘I’ve never been so panic stricken’

Dave Scott was at his home Friday outside 100 Mile House when a friend of his, a volunteer firefighter in the area, sent him an ominous text: “Get out now.”

“I’ve never been so panic stricken in my life,” said Scott, who moved to the area two years ago from the coast near Vancouver.

“As a city boy, I was not prepared,” he said. “I’m worried that if my home burns — I’m 44 years old. I’ve worked hard to get here in life. What do I do for clothing? What do I do for food? Do I have a job? Do I have a future in this town?”

Fires burn across California

In the hot, dry conditions over the weekend, thousands of Californians evacuated homes at risk from wildfires.

Cal Fire said Tuesday night that nearly 5,000 Californians were still under evacuation orders.

The scorching weather comes after California’s prolonged drought emergency was declared officially over in April. Extremely low humidity and winds are helping to fuel the wildfires, not just in California but also Arizona.

The Whittier Fire

On Tuesday one of the most dangerous blazes — the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara in coastal Southern California — had spread to 11,281 acres with 48% of the blaze contained, according to Cal Fire.

Winds out of the southeast are pushing the fire away from Santa Barbara and toward Santa Ynez, authorities said. A path toward Santa Ynez has already burned, which is helping firefighters contain parts of the fire.

The Wall Fire

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Butte County, where the blaze known as Wall Fire started Friday. By Tuesday night, it had burned 5,800 acres and was 55% contained, Cal Fire said, but 5,400 homes were still threatened.

More than 2,000 personnel were fighting the Alamo Fire in San Luis Obispo County, which had spread to more than 28,000 acres and was 60% contained, according to Cal Fire’s website Monday evening. And the Jennings Fire in Lakeside, outside San Diego, forced evacuations Tuesday afternoon after it grew from 100 to 400 acres in a matter of hours.

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