lunes, abril 15

Wildfire in Kelowna, British Columbia, Expected to Leave Lasting Scar

The fire-ravaged Canadian province of British Columbia was under a state of emergency for a second day, as a wildfire in and around the resort city of Kelowna continued to consume houses.

Firefighters said on Saturday that a drop in wind was aiding their efforts to control the blaze, but that the flames and embers continued to blow toward the city.

The fire is one of two in Canada that have led thousands to evacuate their homes in the last week. Hundreds of miles away from Kelowna, a wildfire converging on the city of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, prompted officials to order a mass evacuation of the entire city.

Officials said Saturday that the fire remained stalled a few miles from Yellowknife, a welcome reprieve, though the danger remained serious and imminent.

Rebecca Alty, the mayor of Yellowknife, a city of about 20,000, said an estimated 1,600 residents were defying evacuation orders and remained in the city.

“The fire is approaching,” she told the holdouts in an appeal aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’re working hard to stop it, but let’s not get into a situation where we have to do an emergency evacuation.”

Firefighters battling the fire near Kelowna, which has a metropolitan population of about 200,000, said the fire danger was somewhat alleviated.

Jerrad Schroeder, deputy chief of the provincial wildfire service’s center for the region that includes Kelowna, said that overnight the fire had fallen to an intensity rating of two or three on a scale that runs up to six.

“It’s a good firefighting day,” he said.

“Last night we had a reprieve,” Jason Brolund, chief of the fire service in West Kelowna, the suburban community most ravaged by the flames, told reporters. Nevertheless, he said that 127 firefighters using 41 fire trucks were still dealing with multiple house fires on Saturday and that no end to the blaze was in sight.

“It’s become evident that this event is going to leave a long-lasting scar,” he said.

David Eby, the premier of British Columbia, said the province has used emergency powers to ban nonessential travel to the region around Kelowna, which is best known for its wineries and popular lakes, in a bid to free up hotel rooms and other accommodations for evacuees and emergency personnel including firefighters.

“We shouldn’t need an order; please stay out of these places,” he told reporters in Vancouver.

As of Saturday afternoon, about 30,000 people in the province were under evacuation orders and 36,000 more were told to prepare to leave.

The airport at Kelowna remained closed for a second day to free airspace for water bombers as well as for police and wildfire fighting helicopters. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that drones have illegally flown into fire zones, sometimes forcing helicopters to withdraw, and that police boats have needed to chase sightseeing motorboats off portions of Okanagan Lake where water bombers are swooping in to refill.

Several fire officials said on Saturday that their forces were too busy to tally the number of homes destroyed in the Kelowna area, but they suggested that the number would be large.

“We will start counting the number of houses as soon as we stop fighting the fires,” Chief Brolund said.

On Saturday evening, officials from the Northwest Territories said that a variety of factors, including some light rain, had stalled the fire about 15 kilometers, just over nine miles, from Yellowknife’s city limits.

“It’s good to have another day where it’s sitting at 15 kilometers up in the northwest,” Mike Westwick, the territory’s wildfire information officer, said at an online news conference.

That allowed crews to build a fire barrier that includes sprinklers and water cannons fed by a hastily constructed pipeline.

The stalling of the fire front, he said, also allowed firefighters on the ground to be directly attacking portions of it.

But Mr. Westwick cautioned that the current reprieve did not mean that the territorial capital was out of danger, particularly given forecasts of rising temperatures.

“This fire’s taken a nap,” he said. “It’s going to wake up, and we’ve got a serious situation.”