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Wind Warnings Spark Evacuation Orders in Western Canada Forest Fires

16 Jul 2017 12:50 pm
By Paul Vieira 

Authorities in the Canadian west-coast province of British Columbia issued nearly a dozen evacuation orders this weekend as raging forest fires threatened to spread with high winds -- some reaching over 40 miles an hour -- set to hit the province's central region.

Of the 10 evacuation orders issued as of Saturday night, the biggest community affected is Williams Lake, British Columbia, roughly 375 miles north of Vancouver and with a population of 25,000 that covers the city and surrounding area. Before Saturday orders, British Columbia officials had estimated roughly 17,400 people had been evacuated.

Environment Canada, the national weather service, has issued an alert for the British Columbia interior, warning windy and unsettled weather would prevail Sunday. As a result, the British Columbia Wildfire Service said the windy weather "will lead to a substantial increase in wildfire activity throughout the region."

The wildfire agency said wind gusts could range from 12 to 30 miles an hour, and in some regions hit 40 miles an hour. The winds "could persist for some time, and lead to extreme and aggressive fire behavior," the agency said.

The government of British Columbia declared a state of emergency on July 8. British Columbia estimates there are roughly 160 active wildfires across the province, with 14 deemed to pose the most dangerous threat to communities. In the British Columbia interior, where the bulk of evacuations are taking place, the size of the fire is estimated at nearly 100,000 acres.

Over 3,000 personnel are working to suppress the fire, the British Columbia Wildfire Service said.

The fires have already forced major lumber producers to shut down operations in British Columbia, and this could disrupt supply for home builders if the fires persist. Last week, lumber futures reached their highest close in 12 years.

In May 2016, out-of-control forest fires engulfed Fort McMurray, Alberta, the epicenter of Canadian oil-sands production, forcing the evacuation of 80,000 residents and causing the destruction of 2,400 homes. The fires shut down nearby oil-sands production sites for more than two weeks.

Write to Paul Vieira at paul.vieira@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 16, 2017 08:50 ET (12:50 GMT)

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