British Columbia lifts most travel restrictions as Canada wildfires ease

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) – The government of British Columbia said it would largely lift travel restrictions to the province’s wildfire-hit interior on Tuesday, as rain and cooler weather helped hold back blazes across western Canada.

The restrictions barred non-essential travel to communities in the province’s interior including Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops and were due to expire at midnight. The measure will remain in place for West Kelowna.

Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record and in the past week more than 50,000 people, including the entire population of the Northwest Territories’ capital Yellowknife, have been forced to flee their homes.

Flames burned nearly 200 homes in Kelowna and West Kelowna, officials said, but conditions were slowly improving even though smoke continued to blanket the province.

“I really am beginning to feel like we’re turning the corner here on this fire,” West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund told a news conference.

The travel orders were put in place over the weekend to free up accommodation for evacuees and emergency services.

“…The efforts in partnership with the federal government, with First Nations and others on recovery has started already,” British Columbia Premier David Eby told a news conference in West Kelowna.

The premier was visiting areas worst-hit by wildfires and said active fires were still burning very close to many homes.

In the Northwest Territories (NWT), 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) to the north, firefighters protecting Yellowknife received some help from rain, and the blaze is not expected to reach the city in the next three days, NWT Fire said in a social media post.

But officials warned of tough days ahead for the communities of Hay River and Fort Smith, near the Alberta border, with rising temperatures expected to spur more fire activity.

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)