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Communities in B.C. brace for wildfire evacuation orders as weather turns

Last Updated Jul 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm EDT

A wildfire burns on a mountain in the distance behind a house that remains standing on the Ashcroft First Nation, near Ashcroft, B.C., late Sunday July 9, 2017. As if the risk of losing their homes isn't enough, wildfire evacuees in British Columbia have faced the additional threat of looters searching through their belongings after they rushed to safety. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The number of evacuees in British Columbia is expected to climb, as lightning and strong winds in the forecast could worsen the region’s raging wildfires.

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb says crews are ensuring routes are clear and buses are ready if the city’s 11,000 residents are suddenly forced to leave, adding to the more than 16,000 people who have already been ordered to evacuate their homes across the province’s Interior.

The forecasted wind and lighting could fuel the dozens of fires burning, three of which surround Williams Lake.

Environment Canada says it expects widespread winds from 20 to 50 kilometres per hour to begin Saturday afternoon over the province’s central and southern Interior, and it’s possible that there may be local wind gusts up to 70 km/h through some valleys and canyons.

“Unfortunately, significant rain continues to elude the southern half of the province for the foreseeable future,” Environment Canada says.

And Friday evening, Emergency Info BC issued its first evacuation order since Wednesday.

People in the Loon Lake area of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District were ordered to evacuate the area, and an evacuation alert was issued for the Village of Clinton.

Village officials warned that residents should prepare for an evacuation order, noting that the fire was headed their way and “poses an imminent threat to people and property.”

The BC Wildfire Service says it’s taken steps to help ground crews fight some of the fires, by burning a safe perimeter around a 2,600-hectare blaze near 150 Mile House.

The service is asking people to stay away from the backcountry to avoid triggering human-caused fires.

Officials are also asking the public to stay off four lakes in the Cariboo region, specifically Williams Lake, Watson Lake, Lac La Hache and Horse Lake, so that firefighting aircraft have room to pick up water.