State of emergency in British Columbia extended as wildfires rage

VANCOUVER, July 19 (Reuters) - British Columbia's government took the unprecedented step on Wednesday of extending a state of emergency by two weeks as it battled 140 wildfires that have forced about 45,000 people from their homes.

The province's Premier John Horgan said evacuated households would receive C$600 ($476.53) from the government to cover basic needs for every 14 days they cannot return home. The government announced the first such payment earlier this month after establishing a C$100 million fund.

"Traditionally when an emergency is declared people are usually back in their homes within the two week period. That may not be the case for many individuals," Horgan told reporters, in his first major announcement since taking office on Tuesday.

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Wildfires cause state of emergency in British Columbia, Canada
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Wildfires cause state of emergency in British Columbia, Canada
A wildfire burns north east of the town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. Picture taken July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
A helicopter flies over a wildfire south west of the town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. Picture taken July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fire retardant covers a window of a house in Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. Residents of the town were forced to evacuate 11 days ago and can now return to their homes. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
Wes Gerwien, 28, looks out a window of his family home that was covered in fire retardant in Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. Residents of the town were forced to evacuate 11 days ago and can now return to their homes. REUTERS/Ben Nelms TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fire retardant covers a street in the town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. Residents of the town were forced to evacuate 11 days ago and can now return to their homes. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
The Westside Road wildfire burns in Kelowna, British Columbia July 23, 2015. The B.C. Forest Service estimates the uncontained fire's size at 456 hectares (1127 acres), with an evacuation order in effect. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber
TOPSHOT - As forest fires rage in western Canada, some areas, including this property in Ashcroft, BC, are spared from being burned when air tankers drop fire retardant on the ground, July 19, 2017. The provincial government extended a state of emergency and announced aid for tens of thousands of people evacuated because of the disaster. Around 150 fires were burning in British Columbia on the Pacific coast, and more than half of them remained out of control, firefighting officials said. The fires have forced at least 46,000 people from their homes. / AFP PHOTO / Don MacKinnon (Photo credit should read DON MACKINNON/AFP/Getty Images)
Wildfire fighters eat dinner in a dining tent after returning to their camp in the town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. Picture taken July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
A sign welcomes residents of the town of Cache Creek back home after residents were forced to evacuate 11 days ago due to wildfires in Savona, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
The sun is pictured through smoke from the Ashcroft area wildfire in Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
The remains of a home in Boston Flats is pictured after being destroyed by a wildfire in Boston Flats, British Columbia, Canada July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
The remains of a vehicle in Boston Flats is pictured after being destroyed by a wildfire in Boston Flats, British Columbia, Canada July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms
Wildfire evacuees from Williams Lake, Daniel and Hailey stand with their grandfather while in line for food outside of the evacuation centre in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Nelms TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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On July 7, the Canadian province declared its first state of emergency since 2003 as gusty winds fanned fires that were caused by lightning and humans in the tinder-dry central and southern regions.

The fires have shut mines and timber operations and damaged homes and electrical infrastructure.

Canadian military aircraft have joined thousands of firefighters from as far away as Australia to battle the fires.

On Wednesday, 140 fires were raging in the province, down from 163 on Sunday, British Columbia chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said, attributing the drop to cooler, less windy conditions.

The estimated area of land burnt since the beginning of the wildfire season on April 1 was 353,000 hectares (872,282 acres), costing the province C$105.3 million, Skrepnek said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said it was too early to provide cost estimates of the fire damage. Skrepnek said heavy smoke made it difficult to gauge damage to homes and other infrastructure.

Mining and milling operations at the Gibraltar copper mine had resumed after being shuttered for four days as fires restricted access to the mine site, owner Taseko Mines said.

Major pipeline companies in region, including Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd, a unit of Kinder Morgan Inc, have created fire breaks, installed sprinklers and taken other measures to protect operations.

West Fraser Timber Co and privately held Tolko, among the largest Canadian producers of forestry products, and Norbord Inc, have suspended some operations.

Residents of Cache Creek, a small ranching town of 1,000 in south-central British Columbia, were allowed to return home on Tuesday after 11 days in shelters.

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