Canada Musters Military to Fight Wildfires, 39,000 Evacuated

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) —
Smoke and fire retardant are seen along a neighborhood in Lake Country, British Columbia, Sunday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canada was deploying military aircraft and Australia was sending 50 firefighters to battle rapidly spreading wildfires in British Columbia that have forced 39,000 people from their homes, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Monday.

Goodale told reporters that the provincial government had made two requests of the federal government for military assistance to fight the fires, which he said 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.

Local governments issued more than a dozen evacuation notices over the weekend, increasing the number of evacuees to 39,000 from 14,000 last week, according to British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

British Columbia has announced C$100 million ($78 million) in emergency funds. The Canadian Red Cross will hand out stipends of C$600 for displaced people and additional money for rebuilding.

Other jurisdictions have agreed to send some 260 personnel to the area.

The fires were burning across an area ranging from 150 km (95 miles) to 350 km northeast of Vancouver and have affected public utilities and industries including timber and mining.

West Fraser Timber Co., Norbord Inc. and privately held Tolko, among the largest Canadian producers of forestry products, have suspended some operations. Disruptions were expected to tighten the supply of wood products and raise prices.

Tolko said on Monday that many of its employees had been forced from homes and resources in the city of Kamloops, which has been taking in evacuees, may be quickly overwhelmed.

Pipeline operator Enbridge Inc., which has taken a natural gas compressor station offline and canceled planned maintenance work, said on Sunday it had no firm timeline for restarting the station or resuming work.

Some 30,000 cattle were being threatened by flames, smoke and loss of grass for grazing, said Kevin Boon, general manager of the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association.

Boon said this was not affecting cattle prices beyond the province, which is a relatively small producer.

EnGold Mines Ltd. has suspended exploration. Imperial Metals Corp. said in a statement on Monday that it had suspended operations at its Mount Polley mine.

“Mount Polley will resume operations once the situation stabilizes,” it said.

In 2016, forest fires in Fort McMurray in neighboring Alberta province displaced 88,000 people and burned 590,000 hectares.

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