At least 50 buildings have been destroyed by wildfires in and around Kelowna, British Columbia, in the past few days, officials said Monday, warning that the final number will rise as they investigate the damage.
“We're not done yet and the most damaged neighborhoods are yet to come,” Jason Brolund, the fire chief for West Kelowna, the most fire-hit suburban community, said at a news conference Monday.
Attempts by crews to assess the extent of the destruction were hampered by melted street signs, destroyed address markers on homes and impassable roads, and downed power lines and trees, Chief Brolund said.
But since Saturday, he said, various factors have reduced the fire's intensity, making it easier for firefighters to keep the flames away from buildings. No one has been destroyed by the fire in the past 24 hours.
“What's happening out there is the everyday routine of firefighting,” Chief Brolund said.
In British Columbia, a state of emergency continued to prevail across the province. 380 fires were reported on Monday. About 30,000 people have been forced from their homes, about a third of them from the Kelowna area, a popular summer resort town of 200,000 people in the metropolis.
About 500 municipal firefighters from about 30 communities were battling the blaze Monday, in addition to the province's wildfire squads.
Among the buildings that burned was a landmark resort on the shores of Lake Okanagan, the area's top tourist attraction. Last week, the province banned tourists from traveling to the affected region to free up hotel rooms and other accommodation for evacuees and firefighters. The city's airport was closed during the day, leaving the surrounding airspace empty except for depth charge planes and firefighting helicopters.
One factor helping firefighters, the province's forest fire service said Monday, is a reduction in the sun's intensity — a result of all the smoke in the sky. Much of the province is now blanketed in smoke from hundreds of active fires and air quality warnings have been widely issued.
An unknown number of buildings were also destroyed by a separate fire about 100 miles north of Kelowna near Shuswap Lake.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Facebook parent company Meta for continuing to block messages in feeds viewed by Canadians, saying it has made it difficult for people affected by the fires to find reliable information. Meta took the move after Canada passed legislation mandating compensation for Canadian news outlets.
“Facebook puts corporate profits ahead of people's safety,” Trudeau told reporters in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “It's about time we started expecting more from companies like Facebook that make billions of dollars off Canadians.”
Last week, Facebook didn't directly address previous criticisms of its actions, but noted that it has activated an emergency service for areas affected by the wildfires, including providing official government announcements.