Fire costs piling up

This year's unprecedented wildfire crisis is taking a bite out of the provincial budget, with the end of the fire season still a long way off.

B.C. Finance Minister Carol James says spending to fight the worst fire season on record is already $389 million over the February budget estimate.

And she says it's only the halfway point of the season.

James says firefighting costs will be included in a financial update she will release next month before the province releases its full budget in February.

Meanwhile, the BC Wildfire Service says calmer and cooler conditions in recent days have helped efforts to fight 134 fires still burning in the province.

Chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek says the largest fires, including a historic blaze west of Quesnel that is more than 4,600 square kilometres in size, have not grown since Monday.

Conditions have also eased around an aggressive wildfire 20 kilometres southwest of Salmo, prompting the Central Kootenay district to allow residents to return Tuesday night to nearly 40 properties that were evacuated on Aug. 12.

Emergency Management BC says the number of evacuees has fallen to about 2,600, down from 3,800 on Monday, but Skrepnek says firefighting efforts could be hampered by thunderstorms expected to bring gusty winds and lightning to the Central Interior later this week.

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