Mexico, U.S. to help fight British Columbia wildfires

(Reuters) - Firefighters from Mexico and the United States were due to arrive in British Columbia this week to help fight 138 wildfires in the Western Canadian province, the provincial government said on Tuesday, as more hot and dry weather was forecast.

“They are going to be valuable assets to us just given the situation we’ve got and ... the weather forecast,” British Columbia chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said in a daily call with reporters.

Mexico will send 108 firefighters and the United States will send 27 to join a force of nearly 4,000 battling blazes that have shut sawmills and mines and forced thousands from their homes. It is so far the province’s third worst fire season on record based on area burnt.

Since April 1, 840 fires across the province have charred an estimated 460,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) and destroyed 305 structures, officials said, including homes, outbuildings such as sheds and barns, and commercial buildings. Some 115 burnt structures have not been identified.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got his first look on Monday at damage caused by fires in the central interior of the province when he visited the city of Williams Lake. He said he was “deeply affected” by what he had seen and thanked firefighting personnel for their work.

Forestry company West Fraser Timber Co said on Sunday that its Chasm sawmill would remain closed while the nearby community of Clinton, British Columbia, was under an evacuation order. Many of the workers at the mill live in Clinton.

Imperial Metals Corp said last week that it planned to have its Mount Polley mine fully operational from Wednesday after residents of Williams Lake, where many of its workers live, were able to return after an evacuation order was lifted.

Around 6,000 people in British Columbia are unable to return to their homes, said Robert Turner, assistant deputy manager of Emergency Management B.C. Last month there were some 45,000 evacuees, the most since the fires began this year.

The fires have cost the province C$188 million ($149.94 million) so far this fire season, Turner said.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Toni Reinhold