MONTREAL – Canada’s western province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, with strong heat and winds expected to increase wildfires in the coming days.
“We have reached a critical point,” said Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnsworth. “Based on advice from emergency management and wildfire officials and my briefing last night on deteriorating weather, I am declaring a provincial state of emergency.”
He said the decision empowers the authorities to organize mass evacuations and provide emergency accommodation for the evacuees.
Some 5,700 people were under evacuation orders in the province on Tuesday – more than double the number of the previous day, as the size of the danger zone increased.
Around 32,000 more residents have been put on alert.
“Please prepare an evacuation plan for your family,” said Cliff Chapman, director of operations for British Columbia’s Wildfire Service. “Having worked in this branch for 20 years, I would kick my family out if I were on an evacuation order today.”
Fires have been raging across western Canada and the US West Coast for several weeks following a scorching heat wave in late June, which experts have linked to climate change.
Chapman said about 1,200 square miles (3,000 square kilometers) in British Columbia have already gone up in smoke—more than three times the average area typically burned up to this point in the year.
There are about 300 active wildfires in the province, driven by hot, dry weather that is expected to continue in the coming days, as well as rising winds that could spread the flames.
The interior and southwest of British Columbia, including part of its border with the United States, are particularly affected. More than 3,000 firefighters are currently battling the fire across the province.
In the United States, more than 80 major fires are burning, the largest of which is in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon. The bootleg fire has scorched nearly 390,000 acres—an area larger than Los Angeles.
“Fighting this fire is a marathon, not a sprint,” incident commander Rob Allen, of firefighters in the area, said in a statement Tuesday. “We’re in it for as long as it takes to confine this monster safely.”
Smoke has reached as far as the eastern United States and Canada, parts of which were shrouded in gray smog on Tuesday.
The Environmental Protection Services of New York State issued an air quality advisory.