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As food rots in evacuated B.C. properties, scavenging bears and cougars move in

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A concentrated effort is underway to remove food from evacuated properties in B.C.'s Shuswap region, because the smell is attracting wildlife.

Officials with the BC Wildfire Service said encounters with bears or cougars drawn to the empty properties could pose yet another hazard for firefighters.

“Downed power poles, damaged bridges, broken infrastructure, dangerous trees - wildlife is on that list as well,” said Mike McCulley, a fire information officer.

“This is one of the significant safety issues that is really challenging to deal with,” he added.

The wildfires that caused the evacuations in the region spread rapidly, fuelled by winds and dry conditions. People who were forced to flee had little-to-no time to prepare and would have left food behind in fridges, freezers, on counters or in the trash.

Then power outages caused items stored in refrigerators and freezers to rot, and animals are sniffing them out.

“I mean animals are instinctively smart, even when they’re in the forest,” said Cliff Chapman, also with the B.C. Wildfire Service, when asked about animals scavenging in evacuation zones.

There have been more bear, cougar and raccoon sightings than normal, with the increased activity attributed to the conditions in the wake of the evacuations.

“We’re attracting wild animals in larger numbers to these areas, so the best we can do is to remove as much of the food and waste that is an attraction to these animals,” added John Maclean of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

Crews are going around town with garbage bins and freeze trucks to remove the food, where they can.

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