VANCOUVER, B.C. – British Columbia is getting help internationally and from local urban fire departments in an all-out effort to stop forest fires from overrunning several towns.
Thirty fire specialists from Australia and New Zealand have confirmed they’ll come to spell off exhausted fire crews in the province.
The province is also asking for help from city fire departments to prevent buildings from burning once the fires race through the forests.
“The large number of fires is stretching our resources,” Forests Minister Pat Bell said Tuesday in announcing the international help.
Chilliwack’s fire department is sending a crew of seven.
Chilliwack’s assistant fire chief Jeff Ullyot said the team will be strictly protecting property.
The latest acquisitions join another 850 personnel from across the country along with B.C.’s own firefighting team of almost 3,000.
The next two or three days will be critical as crews try to get the upper hand on a wildfire that now covers 33 square kilometres and threatens to engulf the town of Lillooet.
Roughly 2,300 people were forced from their homes on Sunday as strong winds pushed flames within sight of the town, on the edge of the Fraser River, 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
Residents have been told it will be the end of the week at the earliest before there’s a break in the hot, windy conditions pushing the fire.
The B.C. Forest Service says crews are trying to burn off trees between the town and the fire but it will be 48 to 72 hours before they know if the back burn is effective.
“This morning, the helicopters are bucketing to work on any hot spots that may be left over from the burn or anything that might have cropped over the guard,” said fire information officer Garry Horley.
The fire, known as the Mount McLean blaze, currently sits one kilometre outside the town.
Rain does appear to be in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, but Horley said fire crews are planning as if it’s not.
“You can’t count on (the rain). We fight as though conditions are going to be the worst as is forecast,” Horley said.
Hundreds more fires are burning around B.C., including the Terrace Mountain fire which has forced 2,500 people out of their Central Okanagan homes for the second time in two weeks.
Fire information officer Suzanne Von der Porten says crews at Terrace Mountain, north of Kelowna and near Fintry, are doing all they can to stop the progress of the 75-square-kilometre blaze.
“There was some growth overnight, but apparently it wasn’t very significant,” Von der Porten said.
That fire is about half a kilometre away from the nearest structure.
Von der Porten said the high winds that were anticipated never arrived, so crews will continue doing many of the same tasks they have in recent days.
“It’s supposed to be a hot day today. … They’re going to continue extending those fire guards, working on hot spots that have burned ahead of the fire’s front.”
Evacuations also cover homes near Bella Coola on the Central Coast and in the Interior in several communities west of Lillooet and north of Pemberton.
About 40 residents from the community of Kluskus, west of Quesnel, had to be evacuated from their homes by air Monday night after fire cut off the roads leading out of town.
That 10-square-kilometre fire is zero per cent contained .