Western Canada wildfires prompt state of emergency, evacuations

By Dennis Owen

By Dennis Owen KAMLOOPS, BRITISH COLUMBIA (Reuters) - Canada's federal government on Saturday offered to help British Columbia in response to fast-spreading wildfires that forced thousands to evacuate their homes as hot, dry weather conditions prevented firefighters from controlling the blazes. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a Tweet on Saturday that the government was closely monitoring the wildfires in the Western Canadian province. "Fed. government is ready to respond if we receive a request for assistance from the province," Sajjan said some 12 hours after Western Canada's British Columbia declared its first state of emergency in 14 years. As of midday, more than 180 wildfires were burning across the province, according to the BC Wildfire Service. They covered a large interior portion of the province, extending hundreds of kilometers south from Williams Lake in the North, where a regional airport was shut down, to Princeton. About 7,000 people were forced from their homes as of midday Saturday, CBC News reported. Some evacuees made their way to emergency facilities in Kamloops, a city about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Vancouver. Some cars were covered with chalky red fire retardant that had splashed on the vehicles as it was dropped from "water bomber" planes used to extinguish the fire. Evacuees exchanged stories about efforts to protect their homes before fleeing spreading fires at the center where they were offered food, shelter and medical assistance. Dogs and other pets were taken to another shelter where they were fed and sheltered from the hot summer sun. No deaths or injuries were reported, though Canadian media said that homes and other buildings were destroyed and that some evacuees were forced to abandon farm animals. "Emergency response teams are doing everything possible to meet your needs," incoming Premier, John Horgan, said in a statement to province residents. "I am being updated on the efforts to fight the fire and assure your safety." The province is home to farmers, energy firms, miners and recreational facilities including ski resorts. "Fires are being reported faster than they can be written down - all over the Cariboo," the Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre said late Friday on its Facebook page. "If you are told to evacuate from your property, please leave immediately. These fires are extremely volatile." British Columbia last declared a state of emergency in August 2003, which was also to deal with wildfires. (Reporting by Dennis Owen in Kamloops; Writing by Jim Finkle in Toronto; editing by Diane Craft)