Evacuation order lifted for 2,300 residents of Lillooet
VANCOUVER - Everyone living in Lillooet, B.C., can go home now that the flames threatening the town have stabilized, but despite the hellish horror that will keep them on edge, others in the province don't seem to get it.
Forests Minister Pat Bell says ministry staff have handed out 54 tickets to tourists, campers and residents who have been careless with fire in the woods.
He said last weekend when he was camping, he donned his Forests Ministry ball cap to confront some neighbours who had started a campfire, despite a province-wide ban.
"I did not have my ticket book there. If I had, they certainly would have received probably not just a $345 fine, but an administrative penalty as well," he told reporters Thursday.
At it's closest point, the Mount McLean forest fire came within one kilometre of Lillooet. Crews did a controlled back burn of the woods above the town, creating spectacular night-time flames on the hills just above the town
Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bontron said Thursday the 2,300 residents of his town will be happy to be home.
"It is good news. It's been a long time coming and I really thank everybody for being patient," the mayor said.
The residents will remain on evacuation alert.
But thousands of other B.C. residents are still out of their homes because of a handful of other forests fires encroaching on communities.
The largest of the evacuation orders is in Fintry, where exhausted residents have been told to leave twice when that fire on the west side of Okanagan Lake jumped the fire guard.
Despite the upheaval for residents, Bell calls the battle against the provincial forests fires an "incredible success."
Three homes were lost in the Glenrosa forest fire in West Kelowna last month, but the minister said no lives have been lost and there have been few injuries.
"We have an incredible military operation across the province," Bell said of the 400 aircraft, 4,000 personnel and 1,000 pieces of equipment being used to fight the fires.
Bell said the fire situation is the worst he's seen in his lifetime with 825 fires currently burning in the parched forests.
"The ground is very, very dry and very dangerous," Bell said.
Maureen Adams, a Glenrosa resident who was chased from her home in July because of the fast-moving fire, said the firefighters did a marvellous job.
"It could have been so much worse. We're really blessed that everybody put forth the effort to save everything that they could. You have to respect Mother Nature. There's no getting around her," she laughed.
While most Glenrosa residents were allowed to return home once the fire was contained, Adams couldn't go back immediately because of the smoke damage through the house.
She said the Red Cross helped with everything from food to making sure their home was livable again.
Adams, 45, her husband and three sons just returned to their home Tuesday, six days after most other West Kelowna residents were allowed to go home.
The provincial government's budget to fight the fires has also gone up in smoke.
The original estimate for fighting fires was set at $62 million, but that bill has more than doubled to $135.5 million and Bell said his government is talking with Ottawa in hopes the federal government shares some of the costs.
In the meantime, many more government staff will be in the woods this weekend watching for anyone flouting fire rules.
"There's not going to be any warnings anymore for anyone caught in the bush, whether it's discarding a cigarette or lighting a campfire. It will immediately lead to a fine," said Bell.
Those fines range from $173 for a tossed cigarette to $1 million and even prison time.
"We need everyone to know that this is going to start hitting them in the wallet," Bell said.