Some Canadian wildfire evacuees return home as cooler weather brings relief
August 23, 2023 11:50 AM
Cooler weather brought relief Tuesday in the gruelling fight against wildfires in western Canada, allowing some evacuees to return home, even as blazes still spread elsewhere in the nation.
Across the country, more than 15 million hectares (37 million acres) have burned this season -- an area larger than Greece and more than twice the size of the last record of 7.3 million hectares.
In the west, inhabitants of the lakeside cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna in British Columbia were finally breathing a little easier.
Temperatures in the major wine-producing region fell on Monday, followed by a light rain Tuesday morning, helping firefighters slow the advance of fires, which number in the hundreds in the province.
Several evacuation orders around the scenic Okanagan Valley were lifted earlier in the week, bringing the number of displaced residents down to 27,000.
Fire officials on Tuesday said that some 200 homes had been destroyed or damaged but no deaths had been reported.
West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Brolund told public broadcaster CBC that the situation was "a step in the right direction" and provided a "glimmer of hope."
But he warned the number of destroyed buildings would rise as crews assessing damage pushed deeper "into areas where the fires burned hottest."
"In some areas, the destruction is total. There is nothing left," he said. "That will be very difficult for people to see when they return."
It is still too early to begin allowing evacuees back in the Northwest Territories capital of Yellowknife, threated by separate fires in the far north, but Mayor Rebecca Alty said she was hoping for "favorable weather conditions" to allow firefighters to make "direct attacks on the fire."
The near-Arctic region has received some rain in recent days, and more precipitation was expected on Tuesday.
"I know it's really difficult and the uncertainty is hard," Alty said. But the fire continues to be a threat.
Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal told reporters: "We are in discussions with the territories, with the provinces, on how we're going to bring the evacuees back, certainly to the Northwest Territories."
Canada has faced a record-breaking wildfire season this year. More than a thousand fires are still burning across the country, including 650 out of control.