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Help has arrived in BC Wildfire fight, with more on the way

During the past few days, CL-215T water bombers from Alberta, pictured at the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar, have arrived to assist with fighting fires in the Southeast Fire Centre. — Submitted

The Southeast Fire Centre is getting some much needed assistance in battling the many wildfires in the region.

During the past few days, the Southeast Fire Centre welcomed some CL-215T water bombers from Alberta to the base at the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar, bringing help to the local crews fighting Octopus and Michhaud fires in the Fauquier/Edgewood region.

Donna McPherson, Fire Information Officer for the Southeast Fire Centre, explains that an airtanker can cover a larger area than a helicopter, but helicopters with buckets can target specific trees.

“The purpose of aircraft on any fire is to support ground efforts," McPherson explaines.

"(Aircraft) don’t put fires out. The purpose of them is to drop water on the fire at the direction of the incident commander," McPherson adds.

McPherson said more help for BC fire crews is expected from Quebec, Mexico, Australia and the Canadian Armed Forces.

As of Saturday, wildfires of note in the Southeast Fire Centre include Akokli Creek near Boswell on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake, Cultus Creek fire on the west side of Kootenay Lake Bill Nye Mountain near Wasa in the East Kootenay, the Michaud Creek and Octopus Creek fires and the Trozzo Creek near Winlaw.

The latest wildfire to pop on the Southeast Fire Centre radar is the Mineral Creek fire near Invermere in the East Kootenay.

McPherson said BC Wildfire crews are holding up despite the conditions.

“They’re doing remarkably well and making incredible progress despite the. Smoke and heat are always a concern for our people. But we’re being very careful,” McPherson said.

Nearly 5,000 properties across BC are under evacuation order and over 16,000 remain on evacuation alert this weekend as hundreds of fires blaze province-wide. Many of these fires are fuelled by strong winds and seemingly endless number of hot, dry days.

As of Sunday, the B.C. Wildfire Service says there are more than 1,200 wildfires burning across the province. There are currently 3,320 firefighters in B.C., including 94 from other provinces.

According to the wildfire service, the extremely dry conditions remain in the southern half of the province and there is "no relief in sight."

“Fire responds to weather, relative humidity and wind and the slope that the fire is burning on,” explains McPherson.

A provincewide state of emergency has been declared in B.C. as of July 20th, which increases the number of firefighting resources that the province can access.

Over 3,100 firefighters are currently hard at work fighting the wildfires, including firefighters from Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick. Another 500 are arriving this weekend including 100 from Mexico. There are 178 helicopters and planes supporting ground crews throughout the province right now.

It’s all hands-on deck at this point, and the federal government is also sending up to 350 people from the military, to support the efforts.

Safety Minister Mike Farnworth welcomes the help from the military.

"Air support from Canadian Forces has already proved invaluable in moving crews and equipment throughout the province and aiding in precautionary evacuations,'' he said in a news release.

The Armed Forces crews will be help in holding existing fire lines, suppress hot spots and build new fire lines on the highest priority wildfires. As of yet, there is no set date for these crews to arrive.

In a special air-quality statement issued by Environment Canada for close to a quarter of B.C., in the southeast, residents are warned about smoke from wildfires. The smoky skies bulletin statement warns that people may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk. Forest fire smoke is understood to be a complicated and powerful mixture of gases and very small particles that can irritate the respiratory system and cause systemic inflammation.