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STEIN MOUNTAIN BLAZE

Fires again threaten Indigenous community in Canada’s British Columbia province

The Ross Moore Lake wildfire in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, 28 July 2023. (Photo: Jesse Winter / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Members of the Lytton First Nation are again fleeing their homes amid record-setting blazes in the Canadian province of British Columbia, with the Indigenous community yet to replace dozens of buildings razed in a devastating fire two years ago.

The First Nation ordered 14 people to evacuate late on Friday. By Sunday, the out-of-control Stein Mountain fire was just 300 metres from reserve land, burning its way down a steep slope that has stymied firefighting efforts, the community’s Chief Niakia Hanna told Reuters.

Canada is being seared by a record-setting wildfire season, with more than 100,000 square kilometres burned, and counting – quadruple the area burned during an average wildfire season.

A fire in 2021 devastated much of the nearby village of Lytton, as well as administrative buildings and 41 homes belonging to First Nation members, Hanna said. The community had hoped to start on reconstruction this fall. This year’s fire is about 12 miles from where the 2021 blaze had burned, he said.

“When you experience something like that, the trauma is ongoing. Just the smell of smoke in the air is enough to trigger those recurring feelings and fear,” Hanna said.

About 800 British Columbia residents are under evacuation orders. As of early Monday, there were almost 400 wildfires burning in the province, 14 of them “wildfires of note”, a reference to their visibility or the threat they pose to public safety.

The province faced a “double-edged sword” Monday of thunderstorms in the interior, said Environment Canada meteorologist Ken Dosanjh. Storms could bring both welcome rain and lightning strikes that could spark more fires.

Cooler weather is expected in coming days before temperatures heat up early next week, Dosanjh said.

Canadian wildfires have displaced thousands, destroyed property and sent smoke billowing across the continent, triggering air quality alerts that have affected 100 million Americans.

The blazes have released 290 million tonnes of carbon, according to the EU’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service, twice the previous annual record set in 2014.

Hanna hopes this year’s fires will serve as a wake-up call to authorities about the resources needed to manage them.

“We’re embarked on an unprecedented fire season. I don’t think the province or Canada was prepared or had the ability to respond effectively.”

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Conor Humphries.)

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