KAMLOOPS (AFP) – As forest fires raged Wednesday in western Canada, the provincial government extended a state of emergency and announced aid for tens of thousands of people evacuated because of the disaster.
Around 140 fires were burning in British Columbia on the Pacific coast, and more than half of them remained out of control, firefighting officials said.
Four of those 140 — down from an earlier figure of 150 — are newly declared fires. All told the flames have forced at least 46,000 people from their homes.
Each household evacuated will receive aid of Can$600 ($480), British Columbia Premier John Horgan said.
That amount will double for families unable to return home over the next two weeks, Horgan said.
He also said a state of emergency that was first declared July 7 and set to expire Friday will be extended by two weeks.
That declaration gave emergency responders, forestry officials and police the authority “to take every action necessary to fight these wildfires and protect residents and their communities,” according to a government statement issued July 7.
“We have had many challenges happen and we have more ahead of us,” Horgan said. “A coordinated, strong response is important.”
Nearly 3,000 firefighters aided by 200 water-dumping helicopters and planes are fighting the fires, and reinforcements are on the way.
Rain is forecast in some areas of British Columbia, but the flames are being fueled by bone-dry conditions and fanned by strong winds.
On the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, the fires forced the partial closure of some of Canada s most prized national parks, including Banff in the province of Alberta, which is visited annually by some four million tourists.
Since April, 674 fires have charred 3,530 square kilometers (1,400 square miles) of land. The cost for firefighting and other emergency crews alone has reached more than Can$105 million.
Authorities have yet to give a figure on how many buildings have been destroyed by the fires or the overall economic toll of the disaster.
In Alberta, authorities on Wednesday barred people from lighting campfires.
The province was hit hard last year by forest fires that forced the evacuation of 100,000 people from the oil-producing city of Fort McMurray.