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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At least 50 buildings have burned in British Columbia wildfires

Dropping water in West Kelowna, British Columbia, where about 30,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.

By Ian Austen

At least 50 buildings were consumed by wildfires in and around Kelowna, British Columbia, over the past few days, officials said Monday, warning that the final tally will be higher as their survey of the damage continues.

“We’re not done yet, and the most damaged neighborhoods are still to come,” Jason Brolund, the chief of the fire service in West Kelowna, the suburban community most ravaged by fire, said at a news conference Monday.

Attempts by crews to assess the extent of the destruction have been slowed by melted street signs, destroyed address markers on houses and impassable roads, as well as by felled power lines and trees, Brolund said.

But since Saturday, he said, a variety of factors have lessened the intensity of the fire, making it easier for fire crews to keep the flames away from buildings. None have been destroyed by the fire for the past 24 hours.

“What’s happening out there is the day-to-day grind of firefighting,” Brolund said.

British Columbia remained under a provincewide state of emergency, with 380 fires reported burning as of Monday. About 30,000 people have been ordered out of their homes, about one-third of them from the area around Kelowna, a popular summer vacation spot with a metropolitan population of 200,000.

About 500 municipal firefighters from about 30 communities were fighting the fire Monday, in addition to the province’s wildfire crews.

Among the buildings burned down was a landmark resort on the shore of Okanagan Lake, the area’s biggest tourist draw. Last week, the province banned travel by tourists to the affected region in an effort to free up hotel rooms and other accommodations for evacuees and fire crews. The city’s airport has been closed during daylight hours to leave the surrounding airspace empty except for water-bombing aircraft and firefighting helicopters.

One factor aiding firefighters, the province’s wildfire service said Monday, is the reduction in the sun’s intensity — a result of all the smoke in the sky. Much of the province is now blanketed by smoke from the hundreds of active fires, and air quality warnings have been widely issued.

An unknown number of buildings have also been destroyed by a separate fire about 100 miles north of Kelowna near Shuswap Lake.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Facebook’s parent company, Meta, for continuing to block news on feeds viewed by Canadians, saying it has made it difficult for people affected by the fires to find reliable information. Meta took the step after Canada passed legislation that requires it to compensate Canadian news outlets.

“Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety,” Trudeau told reporters in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “It’s time for us to expect more from corporations like Facebook that are making billions of dollars off of Canadians.”

Last week, Facebook did not directly address earlier criticism of its action but noted that it has activated an emergency service for areas affected by the wildfires, including making available official government announcements.

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