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Local news reports warped back and forth between progress and peril Sunday as wildland firefighters in the Northwest Territories and British Columbia continued to battle out-of-control blazes from Yellowknife to Kelowna to B.C.’s Shuswap region.
In the NWT, 95% of the 20,000 people living in Yellowknife and the neighbouring Yellowknives Dene communities of Ndilǫ and Dettah had been evacuated by Friday. Officials were urging all other non-essential personnel to leave as the nearest of three area fires held about 15 kilometres northwest of the city. After a brief respite brought on by cooler, wetter weather, crews were planning a direct attack on the fire as warmer, windier conditions resumed.
“We’re going to be looking at it this morning to see if we can put boots on the ground at the head of the fire and begin direct attack to slow down certain sections of this fire,” NWT fire information officer Mike Westwick said Sunday morning.
Cabin Radio is carrying local updates for Yellowknife, Hay River and area, Fort Smith, Kakisa, and Jean Marie River, and urging evacuees to stay away until they hear otherwise. “All communities listed are unsafe for your return,” the local news outlet warns. “Do not travel. There is no timeline for return unless stated.” Officials in Hay River and Fort Smith said they expect the evacuations to last weeks.
In Yellowknife and Hay River, RCMP officers found no evidence to support social media reports of widespread looting in some neighbourhoods, Cabin Radio reports.
“A report of a suspicious person turned out to be an essential worker who was checking on properties and watering plants for people in their neighbourhood,” police said in a release Sunday. In Hay River, “the actual number of break-ins, if any, will not be known until residents are allowed to return. However, the reports of widespread or substantial looting appear to be false.”
Meanwhile, access to information for local residents and evacuees was even more difficult and complicated thanks to the decision by Facebook’s parent company, Meta, to remove Canadian news from its platforms, CBC and the Globe and Mail report. Local users scrambled to work around the ban by posting screen grabs of essential information instead of direct links.
“It’s difficult to find the correct information to share to all the people that I have on Facebook,” Fort Smith resident Delaney Poitras told CBC, “but I try to do my best to make sure that it’s correct.”
“It’s reprehensible” and irresponsible of Meta to block essential news in a moment of crisis, Dwayne Winseck, a professor of communication and media studies at Carleton University, told the Globe.
In the British Columbia communities of Trail, Nelson, and Castlegar, the province’s worst wildfire smoke was creating “hazardous” air quality conditions on Wednesday, Castlegar News reported.
In West Kelowna, fire chief Jason Brolund reported progress against the McDougall Creek wildfire Sunday morning, with nearly 500 firefighting and support personnel on the ground and the next couple of days expected to bring cooler temperatures, slightly higher humidity, and less wind. The fire’s size was estimated at 11,000 hectares, Kelowna Now writes.
“Finally feeling like we’re moving forward, rather than we’re moving backwards, and that’s a great feeling for us all to have,” Brolund said. “With saying that, make no mistake, there will be difficult days ahead and we’re continuing to prepare and address those.”
On Saturday, CBC reported 30,000 people evacuated, homes destroyed in West Kelowna, large fires near Lytton and Invermere, and stretches of a major highway closed. Provincial Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma declared a ban on any non-essential travel to several Okanagan communities, aiming to “free up large amounts of accommodations for evacuees and essential response personnel.”
In the Shuswap region, two major fires combined into one near Adams Lake, “burned down blocks of homes, stores, and buildings,” and forced evacuations and boil water advisories, the national broadcaster said. “We’re still going to have a very active and dynamic day and there’s going to be challenges and dangers for our people,” regional management officer John MacLean said earlier in the weekend.
CBC carried photos of what was left after the fire tore through Scotch Creek, on the shore of Shuswap Lake.
“First Nations have found themselves on the front lines of both blazes but, for many, this isn’t their first time evacuating,” the Globe reported Monday morning. “Natural disasters often disproportionately affect First Nations communities as many have been relocated from traditional lands to remote flood- and wildfire-prone areas. Over the preceding 13 years, First Nations communities experienced more than 580 evacuations—and that number is expected to increase.”
The wildfires “are also sparking concerns for ranchers, who are facing tough calls on whether to evacuate large animals off their property,” the Globe added.