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Fire tourists, drone fliers told to stay clear of British Columbia blazes


(Reuters) – Wildfire tourists and drone operators who could be impeding the work of firefighters are being told by British Columbia officials that they are unwelcome while fast moving and unpredictable forest fires rage in the Canadian province.

More than 35,000 people were under evacuation order by Saturday following British Columbia Premier David Eby’s declaration of a state of emergency late on Friday, giving authorities more powers to tackle fire-related risks.

“Drones are a significant hazard to our air crews fighting fires,” British Columbia’s minister of forests Bruce Ralston said at a press conference. “Now is not the time to take the footage of photos of active wildfires. Not only is it irresponsible, but it is illegal to fly them in fire areas,” he said.

Some tourists have posted their wildfires experiences on social media and there are images of people lining up to see forest fires.

Summer camps and water activities are popular among Canadians but for many, this year’s wildfires have meant fewer outdoor activities, with skies filled with highly-pollutant smoke. Eby issued a new order on Saturday curbing non-essential travel, which was also aimed at finding rooms for the large number of people being evacuated across the province.

Ralston also asked people to stay clear of lakes which water bombers are using to refill water to douse fires.

In response to a question whether the government is concerned about people traveling to watch the fire activity, Bowinn Ma, the province’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness said the non-essential travel ban in place restricts any such activity, including “fire sighting.”

“I don’t know if that’s actually a real term … but what we absolutely cannot have on our roads is people … take photographs, getting out of their cars, visiting communities, where there is high wildfires activities, getting in the way of crews,” Ma said.

Drones can ground aircraft involved in crucial firefighting missions, Ma said.

Some 3,400 workers are involved in firefighting in British Columbia in western Canada.

Brent Saulnier was vacationing in the far north of¬†Canada’s Northwest Territories when he realized he had to retrieve his camper van parked in Yellowknife, which officials had ordered evacuated.

“Leaving Yellowknife, you’re driving into the smoke,” the 33-year old said of his 20-hour journey home to Calgary in Alberta province. “I’ve never driven through a spot where you’re like, the road is open, but it is on fire on both sides of the road.”

(Reporting by Denny Thomas in Toronto and George Sargent; Editing by Grant McCool)

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