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Williams Lake and surrounding area under evacuation order due to wildfires

Scene along HWY 20 near Williams Lake BC. (Treena Wood, NEWS 1130 photo)

WILLIAMS LAKE (NEWS 1130) – Officials are preparing for more evacuation alerts and orders as wildfires in British Columbia risk worsening this weekend.

Lightning and strong winds are in the forecast and could fuel the dozens of fires burning across the province, three of which surround Williams Lake.

An evacuation order has been issued for Williams Lake and surrounding areas in the Cariboo Regional District.

People are being advised to leave their homes immediately due to nearby activity.

Highway 97 is being recommended as an evacuation route.

The BC Wildfire Service says it’s taken steps to help ground crews fight some of the fires, by burning a safe perimeter around a 2,600-hectare blaze near 150 Mile House.

Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek says winds could reach 70 kilometres an hour in parts of the southern Interior.

“That level of wind certainly has the prospect to really whip up fire behaviour, so of course that is cause for concern given the amount of fire we have through the southern part of the province right now.”

Unfavourable conditions mean extra precautions need to be taken to avoid further fires from being sparked, so he’s also urging people to stay out of the back country where possible.

More than 16,000 people have had to evacuate their homes because of fires. It’s still too soon to tell when they might be able to return home, but with fires still threatening entire communities, the number of evacuees is expected to rise.

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb says crews are ensuring routes are clear and buses are ready if the city’s 11,000 residents are suddenly forced to leave.

“We’re ready for it, we’re expecting that if the wind comes up like indicated, it’s a possibility that we will have to go to the next step but right now we’re just on alert and we’re hoping for the best,” he says.

Dave Dixon, who’s managing emergency social services in the Williams Lake region, says more than 200 people have registered in case new evacuation orders force people living there to leave.

“We have had some people just checking out things, seeing how things are going. We have some people coming in inquiring, and something sort of unique that we see is when they do come in, they say ‘hey, can we volunteer?’ So that’s really a positive.

Officials are also asking the public to stay off four lakes in the Cariboo region, specifically Williams Lake, Watson Lake, Lac La Hache and Horse Lake, so that firefighting aircraft have room to pick up water.

On Friday evening, Emergency Info BC issued its first evacuation order since Wednesday.

People in the Loon Lake area of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District were ordered to evacuate the area, and an evacuation alert was issued for the Village of Clinton.

Village officials warned that residents should prepare for an evacuation order, noting that the fire was headed their way and “poses an imminent threat to people and property.”

This morning, an evacuation order was issued for the remote Clisbako area in the Cariboo. Officials have not said how many people are affected.