National News

Wildfires in Canada, California force thousands to evacuate

Posted July 10

There were 219 wildfires burning in Canada's British Columbia province on Tuesday, fire officials said. 14,000 people had been forced to evacuate and leave their homes.

39 new fires began on Monday, said Kevin Skrepnek, Chief Fire Information Officer for the British Columbia Wildlife Service. Since the start of the wildfire season on April 1, the province has seen 599 fires, with the damage estimated at 53.5 million dollars.

The hot, dry conditions that create the blazes are expected to persist in the coming days, he said, with potential winds and lightning threatening to make the situation worse.

Several of the fires in the southern region of British Columbia -- those near Ashcroft, Princeton and 100 Mile House -- are together burning 15,000 hectares, officials said, or just over 37,000 acres.

Authorities estimate 14,365 people have been evacuated, according to Robert Turner, British Columbia's Assistant Deputy Minister of Emergency Management.

Military assistance has been brought in to help the 1,000 fire personnel currently fighting the fires, which are mostly in rural areas.

Canada's Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said in a news conference Monday that an additional 300 personnel were on their way to assist. British Columbia also enlisted the help of the Canadian Armed Forces' aircraft to help transport the more than 1,000 fire personnel currently fighting the fires, Goodale said.

The fires have left thousands without power, according to BC Hydro and Power Authority, one of the province's electricity distributors, which said it had 100 crews working to repair electrical infrastructure.

But officials believe there's a long way to go before the fires are brought under control.

"Generally, we're looking at a deteriorating situation," Turner said in an update on Monday.

"We are looking at many weeks to come of a very challenging environment and public safety will remain the overriding priority for the government and for the BC Wildlife Service."

Evacuee: 'I've never been so panic stricken'

Dave Scott was at his home Friday outside 100 Mile House when a friend of his, a volunteer firefighter in the area, sent him an ominous text: "Get out now."

"I've never been so panic stricken in my life," said Scott, who moved to the area two years ago from the coast near Vancouver.

"As a city boy, I was not prepared," he said. "I'm worried that if my home burns -- I'm 44 years old. I've worked hard to get here in life. What do I do for clothing? What do I do for food? Do I have a job? Do I have a future in this town?"

CJ Summers, a 31-year-old who lives in Vancouver, grew up in 100 Mile House, on his parents' ranch, where they raise beefalo. He and his brother were on the ranch when the fire came from the forest nearby. "One tree went up, and it kind of candled about 200 feet in the air," Summers said. All of a sudden, the fire spread, and ate up about 800 meters of thick brush.

"It looked just like a wall of fire," he told CNN. "It sounded like a jet engine, like a tidal wave." Summers' family ended up losing two of its barns.

But each 100 Mile House resident who spoke to CNN talked about how the community has come together to support one another.

"There's something to be said for a real tight community," Summers said. "Whether it's in a town or on a road or neighboring ranchers, when it's time to get going, they really come together."

Resident Deanna Deacon said she was in "complete shock that something this drastic is actually happening in our community," but that she's "in awe of how our community has come together."

Fires burn across California, prompt evacuations

In the hot, dry conditions over the weekend, thousands of Californians evacuated homes at risk from wildfires.

The scorching weather comes after California's prolonged drought emergency was declared officially over in April. Extremely low humidity and winds are helping to fuel the wildfires, not just in California but also Arizona.

One of the most dangerous is the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara County in coastal Southern California. Sixty children were temporarily trapped by a wildfire there on Sunday, when an access road at a summer camp was "completely enveloped by flames," a fire service spokesman said.

The intense fire and fallen trees made the road out of the Circle V Ranch camp in Santa Barbara County impassable for several hours. The campers left so quickly that they didn't have time to retrieve any of their belongings.

One of the campers, Amayah Madere, told CNN affiliate KCBS she was swimming in the pool when a counselor told her to get out of the water and change clothes in a hurry. Campers were escorted to a dining hall to wait while firefighters battled flames around them, she said.

"I prayed that if I didn't die I would go to church and right when I prayed the firefighters came," Madere said.

KCBS reported that the children were evacuated by SUVs, with a police escort, and while they were driving away, trees were burning just outside the windows of their vehicles.

Eric Peterson, Santa Barbara County fire chief, said dangerous conditions meant the campers could not be taken out right away. "They were trapped because the road was completely enveloped by flames and there were trees falling down across the road and there was really just no way to get them out of there," Peterson said.

"So we had fire personnel, sheriff's personnel and Los Padres National Forest personnel all back there keeping those kids safe, and they rode it out there with them for hours, until it was safe enough to get them out of there."

All campers and staff were safe, organizers said in a message posted on social media.

CNN affiliate KEYT tweeted a video taken from inside a vehicle driving through the smoke.

Winds out of the southeast are pushing the fire away from Santa Barbara and towards Santa Ynez, authorities said. A path toward Santa Ynez has already burned, which is helping firefighters contain parts of the fire. The fire began Saturday and expanded quickly, county spokeswoman Gina DePinto said. Its cause was unknown.

On Tuesday it had spread to 10,800 acres with 25% of the blaze contained, according to Cal Fire.

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Butte County, where the blaze known as Wall Fire started Friday. By Tuesday afternoon, it had burned 5,800 acres and was 45% contained, Cal Fire said.

More than 2,000 personnel were fighting the Alamo Fire in San Luis Obispo County, which had spread to more than 28,000 acres and was 45% contained, according to Cal Fire's website Monday evening. And the Jennings Fire in Lakeside, outside San Diego, forced evacuations Tuesday afternoon after it grew from 100 to 400 acres in a matter of hours.

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