By Barry Ellsworth
Up to 37,000 residents have been evacuated as of Sunday as wildfires rage through Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia (B.C.)
An estimated 2,900 personnel are battling hundreds of blazes officials believe began when a series of lightning strikes touched off fires in the heavy forested interior of the province.
Those fires have been fanned by high winds and dry conditions, with B.C. transportation minister Todd Stone telling the media on a conference call Sunday the province could be “looking at weeks to come of a very challenging environment. “There is going to be ongoing risk,” he said.
An estimated CAN$81 million has already been spent fighting this year’s fires, fire chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek told reporters during the same conference call.
Because of the dense forests and bush, wildfires are a chronic annual problem. In the summer of 2017, there have been 552 wildfires, half of them from the beginning of July.
But people don’t have to be scorched by fire to sustain health risks.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, said smoke inhalation is a danger and the effects may not be apparent for some time after the threat of fire has passed.
“The peak of the health impacts from the smoke may not be seen for weeks after the peak fire events,” she said on a media conference call earlier in the week. “Smoke has become an issue.”
Fire information officer Ellie Dupont told media she is not sure how many structures have been destroyed by the fire to date, although blazes have torn through several towns as the fire continues to burn aggressively, fed by dry woods.
The B.C. Wildfire Service estimated at least 9,400 hectares (23,000 acres) are burning in one area alone.
It is believed no one has been seriously injured, but several firefighters have been treated for minor injuries, according to Canadian media.