Officials in British Columbia say they are beginning the difficult process of notifying those who have lost homes in the out-of-control wildfires that have prompted a provincial state of emergency.
Cariboo Regional District chairman Al Richmond said Monday that teams have gained access to areas where houses and other buildings have been destroyed northwest of 100 Mile House.
Crews are also working to restore electricity, telephone service and other infrastructure in regions evacuated after the fires broke out July 6.
“Our staff is actively engaging in the south Cariboo to look at re-entry plans for our residents, should they be able to return home,” Richmond said, although he cautioned return could be “a ways off.”
At least 40,000 people have been forced from their homes by more than 160 wildfires in central and southern B.C., while 17,000 others are on evacuation alert.
A wind-fuelled flare-up of a fire near Williams Lake Saturday forced the evacuation of that city, but Richmond said crews had managed to keep the flames in check about five kilometres northwest of the community.
He said a sawmill is in the path of the 80-square kilometre blaze should it advance, as is the Williams Lake emergency operation centre, but there had been no calls for further evacuations.
Wind on Friday also caused a flare-up of a huge fire that started near the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve. That fire has charred more than 400-square kilometres west of Kamloops and destroyed nearly three dozen homes in Boston Flats near Ashcroft.
Near Kelowna, residents on all but 69 properties have been allowed to return to Lake Country after a human-caused fire was sparked Friday, destroying eight homes.
Lake Country Fire Chief Steve Windsor said the 55 hectare blaze started along the side of a road and was 75 per cent contained by Monday. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Gusty winds Sunday night caused a flare-up that kept crews busy and Windsor said the remaining evacuation orders likely won’t be lifted until Tuesday at the earliest.
Canada’s public safety minister said the federal government is helping in the firefighting effort in every way possible.
Speaking in Pilot Butte, Sask., on Monday, Ralph Goodale said 500 additional RCMP officers have been sent in to assist with evacuation and police communities when they have been cleared out.
“So Saskatchewan is contributing to the effort as well as Alberta, and virtually every other province right across the country to the Maritimes. So Canadians have rallied together here.”
Goodale also announced Ottawa was deploying military aircraft and Australia was sending 50 firefighters to battle the wildfires. Goodale said the fires were expected to worsen.
The military has sent two planes and five helicopters to help with evacuations and transportation for first responders, according to the Department of National Defence.
Goodale’s spokesman Scott Bardsley said the Australians were due to arrive on July 19.