Canadian wildfires force 14K to evacuate as California fires rage

Posted at 6:40 AM, Jul 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-11 06:40:30-04

More than 200 wildfires were burning in British Columbia, Canada, Monday evening, forcing 14,000 people to evacuate, according to fire officials.

About a dozen of the fires are considered major, Kevin Skrepnek, spokesman for the British Columbia Wildlife Service, said Monday. 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 transport first responders and assist in evacuations, Goodale said.

Friday and Saturday each saw around 100 new fires, Skrepnek said, with 29 starting on Sunday.

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," said Bob Turner, British Columbia's Assistant Deputy Minister of Emergency Management, 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."

Red flag warnings issued in six US states

Sixty children were temporarily trapped by a wildfire on Sunday when an access road at a California 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.

At nearby Lake Cachuma, visitors were forced to abandon tents, RVs and boats.

Red flag warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service across six Western states.

A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are happening now or are imminent. The warnings follow a heatwave that saw 40 or more high-temperature records set or tied Saturday across the West, including in Los Angeles; Las Vegas, Nevada; Helena, Montana; and Boise, Idaho.

There are currently 67 large fires blazing throughout the US, 60 of which are uncontained, CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink said. The majority of active fires are in Nevada, Arizona, California and Colorado.

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.

While temperatures in California, Arizona and Nevada are beginning to cool, Brink said, it will still be hot. Temperatures will be between 90 to 100 degrees.

California evacuations

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

One of the most dangerous is the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara County in coastal Southern California -- which threatened the children at the summer camp.

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 Monday it had spread to 10,800 acres with only 5% of the blaze contained, according to Cal Fire.

Fires burn across state

By Monday, 4,000 people across the state had been evacuated, according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Kathleen Schori. Schori said 1,700 people had been repopulated and that plans were in place to get more people back into their homes pending sign off from fire officials.

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Butte County, where the blaze known as Wall Fire started Friday. By Monday evening, it had burned 5,600 acres and was 35% contained, Cal Fire said. A fire in Fresno County was burning 8,000 acres with only 5 % of the fire contained.

And 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 20 % contained, a Cal Fire spokesperson tweeted Monday evening.

At least 32 structures, including homes, have been destroyed while five others were damaged, officials said. Cal Fire said over 1,200 structures were threatened.