U.S.-China talks to be held in Beijing months after spy balloon scuttled plans

WATCH: Blinken addresses Chinese spy balloon, postponement of trip to Beijing

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China next week for long-delayed talks aimed at stabilizing tense relations, and a U.S. official said he is expected to be there on June 18.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Blinken would travel to China in the coming weeks, citing an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An official on Friday said Blinken would be in Beijing on June 18, but gave no other details.

The Associated Press also confirmed the trip, citing U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the State Department nor the Chinese foreign ministry have yet confirmed the trip.

In February, Washington’s top diplomat scrapped a planned trip to Beijing, which would have been the first by a U.S. secretary of state in five years, over a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over the United States.

Since then, there have been contacts between the U.S. and China, but they have been rare as tensions have risen over China’s conduct in the South China Sea, aggressive actions toward Taiwan and support for Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Last week, China’s defense minister rebuffed a request from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting on the sidelines of a security symposium in Singapore.

However, China’s commerce minister traveled to the U.S. last month and Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in Vienna in early May.

The White House said at the time that the meeting “was part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage competition. The two sides agreed to maintain this important strategic channel of communication to advance these objectives.”

More recently, the top U.S. diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region, Daniel Kritenbrink, traveled to China earlier this week along with a senior National Security Council official.

Washington has been keen to reschedule the Blinken trip, and the timing emerged after the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that China has reached a secret deal with Cuba to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island roughly 100 miles (160 km) from Florida.

The spokesperson for the White House National Security Council on Thursday said the report was not accurate, while saying that Washington has had “real concerns” about China’s relationship with Cuba and was closely monitoring it.

The State Department, White House and Pentagon did not, however, immediately respond to requests for comment on a subsequent New York Times report that said China was planning to build a facility in Cuba that U.S. officials were concerned could be capable of spying on the United States by intercepting signals from nearby U.S. military and commercial facilities.

In Havana on Thursday, Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio dismissed the Journal report as “totally mendacious and unfounded,” calling it a U.S. fabrication meant to justify Washington’s decades-old economic embargo against the island nation. He said Cuba rejects all foreign military presence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that “spreading rumors and slander” was a common tactic of “hacker empire” the United States.

The Cuba issue could raise questions about Blinken’s planned trip, intended by Washington to be a major step toward what President Joe Biden has called a “thaw” in relations between the world’s two largest economies.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Marco Rubio, the panel’s vice chair, said on Thursday they were “deeply disturbed” by the Journal report and urged the Biden administration “to take steps to prevent this serious threat to our national security and sovereignty.”

A spokesperson for China’s Washington Embassy said it had no information about Blinken’s trip, but referred to Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s last meeting in November, and added: “China is open to having dialogue with the United States. We hope the U.S. will work in the same direction with China, and jointly implement the important common understandings between the two Presidents in their Bali meeting.”

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Jasper Ward, David Brunnstrom, Jeff Mason and Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler)

© 2023 Reuters

Criticism and applause: A look at the end of Quebec's parliamentary session

WATCH: Quebec's provincial elected officials are reflecting on the good, the bad and the ugly of the past few months. As the session comes to a close at the National Assembly, the party in power always gets the most amount of criticism. But as Gloria Henriquez reports, the opposition parties also face questioning on their own records.

On the last day of Quebec’s parliamentary session, all fingers pointed to the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the party in power.

The Liberals accused them of improvising, especially when it came to the laws that were passed by invoking closure.

Bill 96 was one of them.

A portion of the province’s reform of the French language law was implemented last week.

It sent municipalities scrambling, left wondering how they would apply its provision to limit the use of English to Anglophones.

It even became the butt of jokes.

The huge lineups caused by the province’s automobile insurance board’s (SAAQ) failure to execute their digital transformation, as well as the broken promise on the addition of a car portion to Quebec City’s so-called “third link,” a tunnel linking Quebec City to Lévis, were other failures for which the opposition parties condemned the government.

Quebec's Liberal Party presents its end of session balance sheet. Friday June 9th, 2023.

Quebec's Liberal Party presents its end of session balance sheet. Friday June 9th, 2023.

Gloria Henriquez / Global News

The Liberals congratulated themselves for holding the government accountable on that. But their own performance as a party is being questioned, too.

After seven months, the Liberals still haven’t chosen a new leader.

“It will come in due time and the party will tell us,” said Marc Tanguy, the party’s interim leader.

Quebec solidaire presents its end of session balance sheet. Friday June 9th, 2023.

Québec solidaire called the CAQ government for its “arrogance” during the session.

Co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois says their questioning has led to the most changes, including the government’s new bill to tighten regulations around Airbnbs.

“We’ve been fighting for this for years,” said Nadeau-Dubois said.

On the flip side, the party was heavily criticized for changing opinion on the CAQ’s increase to the salaries of elected officials.

They first said they wouldn’t take the extra money, then they proposed a smaller raise.

The Parti Quebecois presents its end of session balance sheet. Friday June 9th, 2023.

Calling themselves the three musketeers, the Parti Québécois grew in popularity during the winter session, calling out the CAQ’s inconsistencies.

“I think it’s unprecedented,” said Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the leader of the Parti Québécois.

Quebec’s premier François Legault brushed off the opposition’s criticism.

“I think they are in worse shape than we are,” Legault replied.

Legault says despite the multiplying lawsuits piling up against Bill 96 he is governing for all Quebecers.

“I think so,” he said. “Many anglophones in Montreal think we have to protect French because it makes us distinct in North America.”

The fall session is shaping up to be one of big debates and disagreements as the CAQ will try to pass two major reforms: Bill 15, the health reform and Bill 23, the education reform.

“That might be an opportunity for the Liberals, Quebec solidaire and the PQ to score points,” said Danie Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

“We know health care reform is a very tough business. We saw that under the Couillard government and opposition parties are getting ready to have a fight over this reform. But education is also a fight.”

How bad the fight gets will depend on the ministers and how well they are able to perform as they set out to defend their bills, Béland explained.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Missing hiker found dead near mountain peak northeast of Lions Bay

The search for a missing hiker near Lions Bay has ended in tragedy, officials confirmed Friday. Michael Tu had been reported missing after failing to return from a hike on Mount Harvey Wednesday.

The search for a 29-year-old hiker who went missing on Wednesday has ended in tragedy.

Michael Tu was found deceased near the peak of Mount Harvey, northeast of Lions Bay, B.C., on Thursday evening. In a news release, RCMP said they believe he died accidentally, succumbing to “undisclosed injuries.”

“Unfortunately, this search did not have the outcome we were hoping for, and we are heartbroken for the man’s family,” said Cpl. Angela Kermer.

“We are, however, very thankful to community volunteers who helped search, and to Lions Bay Search and Rescue who were exceptional with their work.”

Martin Colwell of Lions Bay Search and Rescue said the call about Tu’s disappearance came in around 2 a.m. on Thursday, prompting a widespread search with multiple ground crews and a helicopter.

Tu was known to have made it to the summit of Mount Harvey around 11 a.m. on Wednesday and was due back down in the afternoon, he added. His brother tried unsuccessfully to contact him around 4 p.m., and it appeared Tu’s phone was turned off at the time, Colwell said.

Tu’s vehicle never left the trailhead parking lot.

Colwell said Tu was well-equipped with good gear and made sure people knew of his whereabouts before heading out.

— with files from Simon Little

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Refugee kids shine on Calgary soccer pitch thanks to community association

With more refugees now calling Calgary home, more kids are finding themselves ripped from their friends and the sports teams they were once a part of. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports on a Calgary community association that is making sure no one is left behind.

It’s been a year since Oksana Chapenko decided to move with her mother, her husband and three kids to escape the war in Ukraine.

Two of the couple’s friends died during a Russian missile strike that killed at least 20 people in their home town of Kremenchuk last year.

“We communicate with my sister because she is still in Ukraine — and a lot of our friends — and it’s hard,” Chapenko said.

The kids had to quickly learn English and adapt to being torn apart from the school, sports teams and friends they had back home. But being part of a sports team is helping.

While the toddler is a little young for being on the pitch, Chapenko’s two boys are now part of the Lakeview Community Association soccer team.

“They were very excited because it’s in the community and a lot of guys they know from school. For us adults, it’s an opportunity to communicate as parents in a nice situation. The boys enjoy playing, because it’s friendly soccer,” Chapenko said.

“They build a closer relationship with other boys, so I think it’s a really great opportunity.”

The Lakeview Community Association dipped into its reserve fund to cover the costs of refugees who want to play “the beautiful game.” It’s part of their “no one left behind” policy that started in response to the number of Syrian refugees who are now calling Calgary home.

Tammy Brigidear has been helping around 40 families get settled in Calgary since the war in Ukraine started. She says sports helps build a sense of belonging.

“It was really to help them feel welcome to Canada and to our community, and having the opportunity to do everything that their friends and classmates are doing,” Brigidear said.

“From a parents perspective, they’ve been able to see their kids laugh and play… It gives them peace of mind, and it’s definitely helping both parents and kids settle,” Brigidear said.

Organizers said this is a way for people who may not be able to host a family in their home to feel like they are helping newcomers.

“It’s not just about no one left behind. It’s about the community spirit that lifts everybody — a rising tide lifts all boats,” said Jon Himmens, president of the Lakeview Community Association. “It’s taken everybody to come together to make this possible.”

The plan is to expand the program to make it permanent, by asking parents to chip in when they register their players.

There are now ten recently-arrived Ukrainian children on the local soccer team in Lakeview.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Meet the Southern Alberta MLAs in Premier Danielle Smith's cabinet

WATCH: There will be some southern Alberta voices at the cabinet table. Jaclyn Kucey tells us who the local ministers are and the importance of having regional representation within Premier Danielle Smith’s inner circle.

The Lethbridge, Alta., region will see representation in Premier Danielle Smith’s new cabinet.

Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf, as well as Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow, will be among the 25-member group.

Neudorf, who was infrastructure minister before the May 29 election, will be taking on a new role as minister of Affordability and Utilities.

He will also become vice-chair of the treasury board, which political sociologist Trevor Harrison says will carry weight in the United Conservative Party’s provincial government.

“This is about as close as you get to the inner circle,” Harrison said. “So it is a prestigious position for him.”

Joseph Schow, meanwhile, will return as Government House Leader, and will take on his first cabinet appointment as minister of Tourism and Sport — a portfolio Harrison says has historically been linked to environment and parks.

“This is going to be an interesting thing for Schow,” Harrison said, “who will deal with … other ministers to massage some real concerns for Southern Albertans.”

Harrison believes regional representation also played a role in Smith’s appointments.

“Southern Alberta is very strong for (the) UCP,” Harrison said. “So they … pretty much needed to put some people in from here.”

Global News reached out to the offices of both Southern Alberta MLAs for comment on their new roles but did not hear back by press time.

The province says its newly appointed ministers will begin receiving briefings from their departments immediately.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

B.C. to require license for asbestos abatement contractors by 2024

British Columbia will soon be the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement a licensing requirement for asbestos abatement contractors.

The Labour Ministry says workers must be licensed by Jan. 1.

This comes following changes to the Workers Compensation Act last year, requiring that contractors who remove the cancer-causing material use only trained and certified workers.

The ministry says required training for worker certification is scheduled to begin this summer.

It says WorkSafeBC will begin to accept applications from contractors performing asbestos abatement work by September.

The ministry says the registry of those who are able to preform the work will be published by the end of the year.

“Bringing in stricter laws and controls around asbestos abatement work is essential for protecting people and the environment from the dangers of asbestos,” the ministry said in a news release Friday.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

Court documents reveal new details in Alberta sexual assault, confinement investigation

WATCH: Troubling new information has been released in court documents in the case of Richard Mantha, a man accused of drugging and sexually assaulting multiple women in Calgary’s sex trade. Ina Sidhu reports. Warning: The contents in this story my be disturbing to some viewers.

New details have emerged from the police investigation into a 59-year-old Alberta man who is accused of forcibly confining and sexually assaulting sex workers on a rural property east of Calgary.

According to recently-unsealed court documents obtained by Global News, four women — three of whom were described as sex workers — came forward separately to police with allegations of being attacked by Richard Mantha.

The attacks allegedly occurred between 2020 and March of this year.

The investigation into the alleged assaults began with an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers.

Mantha is accused of pulling a gun on one woman in December of 2021 and assaulting her on a weekly basis, while providing her with drugs, in his trailer within a quonset near Langdon over the 16 months that followed. The woman told police that she saw what she thought were body parts or heads in the trailer at the opposite end of Mantha’s bed.

A second woman was allegedly driven to Mantha’s home in March 2022 and confined in his trailer. It’s believed she was stabbed during her escape from the property and was later found injured by police along the Trans-Canada Highway.

A third woman accepted a ride while waiting at a bus stop in April 2022 and was allegedly rendered unconscious and taken to Mantha’s home.

The documents indicate a fourth woman, who previously knew Mantha before he moved outside of Calgary, was allegedly assaulted by Mantha 15 times between September 2020 and January 2021.

Police seized numerous electronics from Mantha’s home in April and also seized a BMW belonging to Mantha from a location in Quebec.

Court files state Mantha drove the BMW from Alberta to his mother’s home in Quebec sometime in late December 2022 or in early January 2023, but left the car there and elected to fly back to Calgary.

According to investigators, the car had been cleaned in what appeared to be an attempt to remove bodily fluids including, but not limited to, blood and DNA. Police say they found a pellet pistol, a purse, women’s clothing and women’s boots inside the vehicle.

Police were notified of the location of the BMW by a family member of Mantha who saw a news piece on his original charges.

None of the allegations against Mantha have been proven in court.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Edmonton Elks' young secondary will be tested early and often in home-opener

Week 1 of the CFL regular season brings two things: plenty of excitement with a huge helping of uncertainty. The Edmonton Elks will host the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday to kick-off the 2023 season.

In some respects, both teams have a lot of familiarity from 2022. The biggest change might be in the Elks’ secondary and the Riders’ offence.

Veteran quarterback Trevor Harris signed with the Riders in the off-season. The Riders named Kelly Jeffrey offensive coordinator, the first time he’s ever held the position in the CFL.

The Elks’ secondary features three first-year players in Kai Gray, Darrius Bratton and Dwayne Thompson. With Aaron Grymes still trying to get fully healthy from an ACL injury suffered during the 2022 pre-season, the only veterans in the Elks’ secondary are Ed Gainey and 2022 Western Division All-Star Loucheiz Purifoy.

Elks head coach Chris Jones says he fully expects Harris to test the three rookies in his defensive backfield.

“The reality is we have three guys who have never played a game and they struggled at times today (Thursday) collectively,” Jones said. “We have to do a great job in man coverage, so it’s a matter of us playing our technique and having a good belief system.”

Thompson is doing his best to learn the CFL game, especially with the wide field and the unlimited motion from the receivers. Thompson, a product of Valdosta State, has watched the film on Harris and feels he has a good read on his mechanics.

“He’s a good spot thrower,” Thompson said. “I’m looking forward to playing an experienced quarterback for my first game. I know it’s going to be an experience and there will be and ups and downs. I’m definitely looking forward to a battle.”

O-line banking on experience as catalyst for improvement

Sunday’s matchup will feature the two teams who gave up the most quarterback sacks in the CFL in 2022.

The Riders surrendered a whopping 77 sacks. The Elks gave up 24 fewer sacks but were still not happy with giving up 53.

The Elks chose to stay the course with the offensive line instead making wholesale changes. Four of the starting five from the O-line are back in 2023. Andrew Garnett, David Foucault, Mark Korte and Tomas Jack-Kurdyla. The one new edition on the starting group is 2016 first overall pick Josiah St. John. Korte became the Elks centre mid-way through the 2022 season after David Beard was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Korte says keeping the group together should allow the group to get better.

“When you look at offensive lines around the league and you look at the ones who are really playing well, it’s the groups that have been together for two, three and four years,” Korte said. “Having a group that finished last year together and adding Josiah, who has been with this staff before and was drafted by this staff. It’s a group that really all know each other.”

Edmonton Elks offensive lineman Mark Korte on the new-look offence and the flipping the switch from training-camp to regular-season mode


One other factor that will improve the offensive line, according to head coach Jones, is that the snap-to-throw ratio from Taylor Cornelius has been faster compared to last season. A quicker release should relieve some pressure off the O-line. A strong running game will help as well if Kevin Brown can get back to 6.5-yard average per carry he recorded last season.

Elks bring in punter with a big leg

The Elks made their final roster cuts last weekend. They also brought in a new kicker in Canadian Jake Julien, who was 2021 fourth round pick of the Ottawa Redblacks.

Julien spent time with the New England Patriots in 2022 and played in one pre-season game. Julien recorded a 44-yard punt average in five seasons at Eastern Michigan.

Jones says he will rely on Julien’s hang time for his cover unit to get downfield. Julien during practice recorded hang times in the 4.5 to 4.75 second range. Overall, Julien is just happy to play football again.

“Really excited to play ball after a year off last year and bouncing between teams,” Julien said. “I’m really excited get another season under my belt and play with the guys.”

Jones becomes a social media star

When I first met Chris Jones, he was the defensive coordinator of the Calgary Stampeders in 2009. Five years later, Jones would become a first-time head coach with Edmonton and helped the team to a Grey Cup in 2015. Jones lives and breathes football, sometimes I worry it’s to extreme levels but that’s his element.

The longer I got the chance to know Chris Jones, you learn he has a fun side to him, which is one of many reasons players gravitate to him. That being said, no one ever thought he would take it to the next level by reading mean tweets.

The post has been viewed over 72,000 times on Twitter alone. It’s simply brilliant.

The Elks will open their regular season schedule at home on Sunday afternoon against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Kick-off on The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium will be at 5 p.m. 630 CHED will have live coverage starting with Countdown to Kick-off at 3:30 p.m.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Vancouver group that helps violence survivors flee their abusers 'urgently' needs volunteers

A Vancouver non-profit that offers free moving and storage services to domestic violence survivors fleeing their abusers is in urgent need of volunteers as demand outstrips capacity. Laura Darch of Shelter Movers talks about the capacity issues, while Neena Randhawa of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society talks about the value Shelter Movers provides to the women she supports. 

Warning: This story deals with domestic abuse and violence against women, and may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

A Vancouver non-profit that helps domestic violence survivors and their children flee their abusers “urgently” needs volunteers as the demand for its services outstrips its capacity, post-pandemic.

Shelter Movers is a free moving and storage service that meets families at their homes, helps them pack up and transition to a life without violence, elsewhere. Its executive director said that while other activities were disrupted during COVID-19, it had a health supply of drivers and movers, but that number has since dwindled as people resume their regular routines.

“When the pandemic hit, the demand for our services was significant — so many women and children living in isolation and not having the resources to leave their abuser,” Laura Derch told Global News.

“The demand still exists, there are still survivors needing our services … but so many people are out socializing again and travelling and all of those things. Particularly in the last few months, we just haven’t had the interest in volunteering for our organization that we’ve seen in the past.”

Shelter Movers currently has about 230 active volunteers. In order to meet the demand, Darch said it would need about 400.

It completed 102 moves in the Lower Mainland during the 2020 fiscal year, 272 during 2021, 288 during 2022, and 276 during the fiscal year ending in March of 2023. That number decreased due to lack of volunteers, Darch said.

Right now, the organization is averaging about 18 moves a month.

“When we had enough volunteers, we were doing about 25 to 30 moves a month, so almost a move a day,” she explained.

“I think if we called up all of the transition houses and shelters that we work with and said we could do 100 moves a month, they would say, ‘Amazing, we’ll give you a hundred survivors that need your service.'”

Shelter Movers partners with more than 50 women’s shelters, transition houses and other referral agencies in the Lower Mainland.

Last year, the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, Battered Women’s Support Services and the University of Victoria released the disturbing results of a pandemic-era survey of Indigenous women and gender diverse people in B.C.

Eighty-five per cent of 95 respondents reported an onset of intimate partner violence during the pandemic, and 77 per cent reported an increase in that violence during the pandemic.

According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, at least 88 women and girls were killed in Canada in the first half of 2022 alone, 15 of whom were in B.C.

Last December, three women were killed in the Lower Mainland within a week. A family member or intimate partner was suspected in each of the murders of Stephanie Forster, Harpreet Kaur Gill and Dominga Santos.

Neena Randhawa, director of women’s programs and initiatives at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society in B.C., said she has observed a spike in domestic violence, based on the number of calls for help to her organization.

The society has two transition houses for women in Surrey.

“It’s like every day we have to turn down women and families, like sorry, we are full,” she told Global News, “and it’s so hard to move these families, you know, into their own housing because it’s so expensive.”

The Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society has used Shelter Movers multiple times in the past, calling it a “practical” service that lowers helps remove barriers for women trying to flee. Before Shelter Movers started in Vancouver in 2019, Randhawa said there was much more red tape in coordinating a move, particularly if women were accessing certain emergency government funds.

“They needed three different quotes from the moving companies and to find movers who would come in. It was a lot of trouble,” she explained.

“The families, they’re moving from their place, it’s such emotional timing — then to try and coordinate it would take so much of the staff time and a lot of running around.”

Shelter Movers volunteers are also trauma-informed and respectful, she added, which makes a difficult experience a little easier for the women. She said she hopes the organization is able to find the volunteers it needs.

More information on volunteering for Shelter Movers is available on its website. Shelter Movers has chapters in Calgary, Edmonton, Greater Moncton, Greater Toronto, Montreal, Nova Scotia, Ottawa, and the Waterloo region.

Women and gender diverse people experiencing violence can access support from Battered Women’s Support Services by calling the 24/7 crisis line toll-free at 1-855-687-1868.

VictimLinkBC provides toll-free multilingual support, including referral services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, at 1-800-563-080.

A map of safe shelters for women and children experiencing violence in B.C. is available online through Sheltersafe.ca.

More local resources and information can be found on the B.C. government’s website.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Wildfire just 4 or 5km from Tumbler Ridge, B.C. could reach town by end of day

Officials provide an update on the Tumbler Ridge and Cameron Bluffs wildfires on Fri. June 9, 2023, as locals evacuate their homes. Meanwhile, B.C. Premier David Eby responds to the latest wildfire developments provincewide. 

An “incredibly intense” wildfire burning in British Columbia’s northeast is now just four to five kilometres from the community of Tumbler Ridge, and could reach the outskirts of town at some point Friday, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

The fire prompted an evacuation order Thursday afternoon, forcing the community’s 2,400 or so residents to flee.

Despite the dangerous situation, fire information officer Karley Desrosiers said the West Kistkatinaw River fire hadn’t behaved quite as fiercely as expected Friday morning, and crews are hopeful an early wind shift may still stall growth towards the community.

“The ignition point was about 21 kilometres from Tumbler Ridge, so since Tuesday afternoon we’ve seen it move about 15 kilometres,” she said.

“From my understanding about eight or nine of those were yesterday.”

The fire has more than doubled in size from 9,600 hectares on Thursday evening to 23,000 hectares on Friday afternoon. A crew is currently stationed along Bearhole Lake Road at the bottom of a ridge just east of town, hoping to block the fire’s westward spread.

However, Desrosiers said it has been unsafe for crews to attack the fire directly at its head due to its volatility and intensity. The fire has been so hot and conditions so dry that it is growing on all flanks, even grown against the wind, she said.

“The area of most concern is if that fire crosses the Bearhole Lake (Road) it will likely make its way upslope towards the community of Tumbler Ridge,” she said. “Unfortunately we are still seeing those easterly winds pushing that fire west.”

Earlier in the day, BC Wildfire Service forecaster Matthew MacDonald warned there was a “pretty good” chance the fire could reach the community at some point Friday.

Desrosiers said there were 60 structure protection personnel stationed in Tumbler Ridge with more on the way, along with more unit crews and aircraft to be deployed as they became available.

Tumbler Ridge Fire Chief Dustin Curry, who is also leading the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), thanked the bulk of residents heeded the evacuation order issued Thursday.

About 150 people have opted to remain in the community, he added. A few are working at the EOC, he said, but the rest have ignored the order.

“At this point of time, our message to those individuals who have chosen to stay and are not part of the EOC, is that our sense right now is to public safety, and really the best way you can help us and help the public and the responders and everyone in town here is to evacuate yourself,” he said.

“We understand that that’s not an easy decision for everybody to make, but we really want to stress the importance of having everybody leave so that we can make sure that we’re focusing our efforts in the right places.”

Curry said RCMP had warned people still in the community that there was no BC Ambulance crew in town in the case of an emergency, and that there may be no one to help them if it turns out they need to flee in a hurry.

Desrosiers said wildfires can be so damaging to infrastructure that by the time they reach a community, the option to get out may be gone.

“It can come down to it being too late to be able to escape safely,” she said.

Evacuees have been directed to a reception centre at the Ovintiv Events Centre in Dawson Creek. Anyone evacuating is being asked to register and stay put once they have do so, so officials can keep track if anyone is missing.

Fire has forced the closure of Highway 52 to the north and east of the community, and all evacuees have been directed to take Highway 29 instead.

Evacuees are also being advised that hotels are fully booked in Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, and that if they need accommodations they can find them in Fort Saint John.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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