Trudeau thanks emergency crews for efforts fighting B.C. wildfires

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WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C.—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked those on the front lines of British Columbia’s firefighting efforts as he stopped in Williams Lake on Monday.

Trudeau addressed about 250 people from the fire service, police and military who have been helping to keep the wildfires from overrunning communities in what has been a devastating fire season.

He thanked the workers on behalf of all Canadians for “stepping up,” saying it is reassuring for people to see everybody pulling together.

Read more: Trudeau pledges help for B.C. wildfire recovery as ranchers say costs could top hundreds of millions

“It’s something that is just part of who we are as Canadians, as British Columbians and I really appreciate it.”

The prime minister said different levels of government will work in the coming months to set things back to normal for communities damaged by fires.

“I just really want to, on behalf of all Canadians, say thank you for the strength and the leadership you’ve shown over the past weeks and will continue to show I know for as long as necessary.”

Dozens of homes have been lost as more than 800 fires have burned around the province, scorching about 4,200 square kilometres.

Several hundred residents cheered as Trudeau and Premier John Horgan emerged from a local recreation centre, and the cheering grew even louder as the fire service personal filed out of the building.

Thousands of Williams Lake residents returned to their homes over the weekend after they were forced to leave July 15 when a fast-moving fire encroached on their community.

The prime minister sat down for lunch and a chat with some BC Wildfire Service personnel, many wearing the red coveralls of the firefighters.

“What do you do in the winter?” Trudeau was heard asking some of the crew.

He and Horgan then took a tour of the fire operations centre at the Williams Lake Airport.

“These people are tracking every aircraft when they are in the air,” said fire centre manager Krista Dunleavey.

Trudeau also stopped to pose for numerous group shot and selfies with the fire workers.

Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, said the visit means “a great deal” to fire crews who have been impacted both personally and professionally by the aggressive fire season.

Many staff were among the people evacuated from Williams Lake and had to sleep in tents or in their offices while responding to a number of fires around the community, he said.

“I would say it’s a morale booster in terms of having those kinds of visits,” Skrepnek said.

The political visit comes as the forecast calls for another week of hot, dry weather.

Environment Canada has issued a special warning about a pending heat wave for Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Howe Sound and several parts of Vancouver Island.

Residents have been told to expect daytime temperatures to soar to the upper 30s.

A forecast of lightning in the Interior, where the majority of the fires are already burning, could make the fire situation even worse.

Smoke from fires in both B.C. and Washington state could also pose a problem for crews, reducing visibility for aircraft detecting and fighting the flames and making it unsafe for them to fly, Skrepnek said.

He said winds were forecast to push the haze west to the coast by Tuesday.

“I think across many parts of the province we’re likely going to have this smoke settling in for quite some time,” he said.

Fresh firefighting troops have been brought in from Yukon to help about 3,700 people already involved in the battle.

The territory’s wildfire service says 16 firefighters and an air-tanker group were in Prince George over the weekend.

About 6,000 people remained displaced in B.C. by the nearly 150 fires that were still burning on Monday.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there were 3,700 evacuees.