Canadians count the cost of the worst wildfires in history

ITV News' Washington News Editor Jonathan Wald and US Correspondent Dan Rivers report from British Columbia where tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes

The people of Kelowna, British Columbia, are hoping the worst may be over.

Since Thursday, they have been contending with one of the worst wildfires in its history.

It destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands to be evacuated. It left verdant forests along the shore of Lake Okanagan black.

Today, we got a glimpse of the wildfire from a boat on the lake.

Plumes of grey smoke are still billowing from the trees, and in places you could see the flames continuing to advance.

But the weather has been kind over the weekend, with a drop in the wind and temperatures that had turned this blaze into a beast.

The fires have destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate - video credit: Mike Beakley

Now the firefighters seem to have the upper hand and improved visibility has allowed helicopters and planes to restart their water bombing missions.

Footage of the fire’s peak showed what they were up against. Flames were leaping hundreds of feet in the air and trees were exploding as the sap became super-heated, a phenomenon known as “candling”.

Embers soared into the sky, fanned by the winds, allowing the fire to actually jump the lake which is more than a mile wide.

It has shown how rapidly fires can spread in the tinder-dry conditions here.

Fire Chief for Lake Country District Darren Lee told me that Global Warming meant less rain in the spring, resulting in a fire season that increases a day each year.

The fires were Canada's worst in decades. Credit: AP

One long-term resident we spoke to, who’s lived in the area for 60 years, told me they never used to get wildfires here.

It was too wet. But in the last few decades that has changed.

Twenty years ago almost to the day, another fire ravaged this area. Then people thought it was a freak, once-in-a-lifetime event.

Now these fires are a constant threat. People are having to adapt their homes.

Andreas Grooters heeded the warnings and installed sprinklers on his house, clearing the trees around it.

It meant his was the only one to survive the wall of flames in his neighbourhood. But he and his wife Suzanne have still lost their car business and been forced to leave their home by a mandatory evacuation order.

With their 20 year old daughter Frederica, they and their dogs are now camped out in a carpark of a cinema complex.

They have no idea when they’ll be able to return or even if they want to. Suzanne is worried how she’ll face neighbours who have lost everything.

Their home may still be condemned anyway, depending on precisely how much smoke damage there is.

The process of assessing the damage here and in many other communities is only just beginning.

In Scotch Creek 60 miles north, new video has emerged, taken by a motorcyclist showing the unchecked fire consuming homes and businesses.

The scale of the wildfire crisis here is so vast it has stretched resources to breaking point.

Firefighters have fought with bravery to contain many fires, but some have been left to burn as there simply haven’t been enough boots on the ground.

That may change this week as the Canadian army is drafted in to help with the battle.

While there has been a temporary respite, everyone here knows the fire season is far from over.

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