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Wildfires could spread in western Canada due to weather

Cpl. Kevin Deng, right, and M.Cpl. Casey Zaharoff, members of the Canadian Forces, put out a hotspot from wildfires near Montreal Lake, Saskatchewan, Thursday, July 9, 2015. Large wildfires raging across Canada have contributed to a smoky haze lingering above the Western U.S., blazes fueled by the familiar hot, and dry conditions that have turned much of the region into a tinderbox. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

TORONTO (AP) — Drought conditions and shifting winds in Saskatchewan could lead to more wildfires as soldiers and firefighters battle blazes raging across western Canada, officials said Thursday.

Steve Roberts, a Saskatchewan wildfire management official, said warm, dry conditions could cause more trouble in the province that already has 118 wildfires burning.

“I know we’re happy when it’s sunny and dry but it’s really sunny and dry and this is having a huge impact in the community,” said Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, after visiting some of the hardest hit areas of Saskatchewan.

Temperatures in Saskatchewan rose to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celcius) by Thursday afternoon.

Fires also continue to burn in British Columbia and Alberta, putting a strain on Canada’s emergency resources. The provinces have asked for help from across the country, as well as the United States, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Smoke from the fires have prompted air advisories across western and central Canada, as well as the western United States.

The B.C. Wildfire Service predicts about 30 new wildfires will erupt daily based on recent dry conditions. The province is in the midst of its hottest and driest spell since 2003.

Kerry Anderson, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, said climate change is responsible for the warmer, drier conditions, a result of the weather pattern known as El Nino, which is caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America.

He cautioned that fire crews may not actually be able to put out the fires completely until the fall or the first snowfall.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reports that there are 592 wildfires so far this season in Saskatchewan compared to 213 at the same point in 2014, and that 2,290 acres (927,763 hectares) have burned so far.

Hundreds of Canadian soldiers have been called in to assist. After a crash course in firefighter training, about 360 troops began working in some of the most urgent areas. They have joined some 600 firefighters that have been struggling to contain the flames.

Officials estimate between 10,000-12,000 people have been forced from their homes in the region.

Approximately 60 communities in Saskatchewan are under full or partial evacuation due to wildfire threat or smoke, driving thousands out of their homes. A handful of homes and cabins in the area have already been destroyed by fires.

“The devastation that I have witnessed here is heartbreaking, but I am uplifted by the spirit of community and resilience they have demonstrated,” said Blaney.

No deaths have been reported in Saskatchewan as a result of the fires.

British Columbia premier Christy Clark pledged to spend beyond the budget to contain the fires, acknowledging that the yearly allotment of US$49 million (CA$63 million) is now closer to US$70 million (CA$90 million), to fight the 150 plus wildfires burning.

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