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Friday, September 24, 2021

Firefighters from Mexico arrive in B.C. to help fight hundreds of active wildfires

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia is welcoming roughly 100 firefighters who arrived from Mexico on Saturday to help battle the devastating wildfires raging around the province.

“These highly trained crews will be on hand for 30 days, working shoulder to shoulder with our wildfire service crews,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s public safety minister and solicitor general.

Speaking at a news conference on the tarmac at Abbotsford International Airport Saturday morning, Farnworth expressed gratitude to the firefighters and the Mexican government for their help.

The crews will be put to work as soon as possible, he said.

“After clearing customs, they are heading to a nearby air tanker base to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing and meet with B.C. wildfire representatives and Mexico’s consular general,” Farnworth said.

MORE HELP ARRIVING

On Friday, a number of Canadian Forces wildfire ground crews arrived in Vernon to debrief and receive their tasks. There are 350 more coming to B.C. later this week.

According to the provincial wildfire dashboard, there were 259 active wildfires in B.C. on Saturday. 

“In the long term, we are looking to definitely break some records this year,” said Karley Desrosiers, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.

“As of yesterday, we’re in the top five in terms of most hectares burned since 1950.”

So far this wildfire season, about 400,000 hectares have burned, and without rain in the forecast, that total looks likely to grow.

“We’re likely that this will be a record-breaking year for drought conditions,” said Desrosiers.

There’s no rain on the way, but unfortunately there is lightning in the forecast, something the province has seen a lot of already this year.

“The number of lightning strikes we’ve had to date is considerably higher than anything that we’ve really seen, especially in recent years, as well as the number of consecutive days,” said Desrosiers.

Help is also coming from other provinces, including Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as from Parks Canada.

“We have 113 firefighters from Quebec and they will be heading to the Okanagan complex, the Flat Lake fire, where we are still seeing moderate to high fire behaviour,” said Desrosiers.

That fire is burning out of control and measuring more than 32,000 hectares in size.

‘ONE WAY IN AND ONE WAY OUT’

Katie Pasitney works on a ranch that is surrounded by wildfires.

“We’re one way in and one way out right now,” she told CTV News Vancouver. “Our biggest threat right now is our drought. There’s no end in sight out there. There’s no rain, high temperatures coming in the next seven days.”

The ranch – Universal Ostrich – is in Edgewood, about an hour and a half east of Vernon by car. 

“We have 500 birds right here and a lot of people can’t understand, but you can’t just load up 500 birds so easy just like 500 cattle,” said Pasitney. “Hauling these animals in such high temperatures also risks so much stress on them.”

She and her family, who run the ranch, plan on sticking it out, staying put despite their area being under an evacuation order.

“As long as that highway is staying open, Highway 6, we just need resources, resources, resources let through and we need feed brought in,” she explained.

EVACUATION ORDER DOWNGRADED NEAR OSOYOOS

Elsewhere, the evacuation order issued by the Osoyoos Indian Band has been downgraded to an alert, which includes the Spirit Ridge Resort. According to a Facebook post, the resort is opening its doors to wildfire crews, allowing them to stay there while they battle the Nk’Mip Creek fire. 

Desrosiers told CTV News that fire is still growing, but not as rapidly as it did shortly after ignition.

“All of this has happened in four days,” said Sue McKortoff, the mayor of Osoyoos. “We’re all on edge.”

She said early Saturday morning it was extremely smokey, but the sun had started to shine through by mid-morning. The evacuation centre for the area is in Oliver.

“They have seen over 500 people in that reception centre since it opened,” said McKortoff.

For visitors to the area, the mayor said there’s no reason for those already in town to leave early, but those planning a trip to the area should plan ahead.

“Please do your homework first,” said McKortoff. “Check to see with DriveBC how are the roads coming in and out, because there’s lots of road closures.”

She’s grateful for the international support arriving later Saturday.

“Our firefighters are dead tired,” said McKortoff. “They are all heroes for sure.

HUMAN-CAUSED FIRES LOW

One bit of good news: the number of human-caused fires is quite low this year, so far.

“Generally. we have about 40 per cent human-caused to 60 per cent in any given year,” said Desrosiers. “Out of the fires burning currently, we’re looking at about five per cent human-caused.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help ensure Universal Ostrich can afford feed and resources to keep its birds alive. 

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