Harper meets B.C. crew, thanks people fighting wildfires across country

The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward
The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER – With the hillside smoking above him, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Thursday with a crew who have been fighting an out-of-control wildfire near West Kelowna, B.C.

Harper, Premier Christy Clark and others toured an area where residents from 70 homes were chased out Monday by the flames.

The prime minister thanked all crews and first responders who have been battling wildfires across the country.

“We know these are tough and are sometimes dangerous jobs and these efforts really are appreciated by everybody.”

Harper said he has spoken with Premier Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall about the need to discuss what can be done to improve how such devastating fires are fought.

“When the dust settles, so to speak, on all of this we’re obviously going to sit down and assess what new or different needs to be done in the future, what we can do in terms of better co-ordination of resources, mitigation, we’ll look at all those things,” he said.

Parts of northern Saskatchewan have been devastated by wildfires that at one point forced thousands of people from their homes.

On Thursday, a thick haze cloaked the Westside Road fire in the Okanagan community. Smoke could be seen billowing from the mountain as water bombers whizzed overhead.

The blaze is one of 250 wildfires currently burning across B.C. A total of 1,314 wildfires have broken out this season.

Fire information officer Noelle Kekula said a short break from hot, dry weather allowed six skimmer aircraft to attack the Westside blaze.

“It was nice and calm this morning, so we were able to use air support lots this morning.”

An incident command team is managing how 60 firefighters, four helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment are attacking the wildfire.

Evacuees from the fire clutched yellow forms and volunteers carried trays of sandwiches in and out of a temporary evacuation centre set up at the Westside Lions Community Hall Thursday afternoon.

The centre opened on Monday night when the evacuations began. About 60 people have stopped by for help, said acting centre manager Catherine Williams.

“As it goes on people want to get home,” said Williams.

“If they’ve got company coming, they’re not happy about it, but they’re all pretty resilient. We haven’t seen anyone angry. They’ve been really good.”

Claire and George Poitras fled their home near Westside Road Monday evening after Claire looked out the window to see the mountain ablaze.

They didn’t even have time to grab toothbrushes but said they are happy with how the fire has been handled.

“The province has really left no stone unturned,” said George Poitras.

“We’re staying at a Best Western. They’re feeding us well. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be like a vacation.”