Cooler weather is giving wildfire crews a bit of a breather as they battle a number of fires around B.C., but officials warn August could see more fire activity with drier, warmer conditions expected over the next month.
Officials said they expect more new fires in the coming weeks due to "seasonal and above-average" temperatures in the forecast. The hot weather follows a prolonged hot spell that raised the fire risk across southern B.C. in the last two weeks of July.
"Elevated fire danger is expected to shift from the northern portion of the province down to the south," said Neal McLoughlin, superintendent of predictive services with the B.C. Wildfire Service. "Large fires that started in July will remain active into August, and additional growth can be expected on these fires."
McLoughlin said northern parts of the province have seen significant amounts of rain, but the southern half will only see smaller, isolated showers in the coming days.
"All it will take is a couple of days of hot, dry weather to bring us back up to extreme or high [fire risk]," he said, speaking at a provincial briefing on Thursday.
The B.C. Wildfire Service said there was little overnight growth on most of the six fires of note in the province that are either highly visible or a potential threat to homes and properties.
The blaze southwest of Penticton is the exception, growing from 28 square kilometres to just over 42 square kilometres Wednesday as stiff winds forced flames downhill toward the community of Olalla.
Fire officials expect to issue a new perimeter map after controlled burns along one flank of the blaze nearest Highway 3A on Wednesday dropped debris onto the route between Keremeos and Kaleden, briefly closing the road.
Nearly 300 firefighters are assigned to the fire, and the wildfire service says mop-up from the controlled burns and Wednesday night's fire activity is continuing as temperatures in the southern Okanagan remain cool but are set to climb into the low 30s this weekend.
As of Wednesday, there were 91 active wildfires throughout the province, including the six fires of note. The wildfire service has reported a total of 530 blazes in B.C. since the start of the fire season — 151 of them in the last seven days.
The fires this season have burned a total of 220 square kilometres across the province, which equates to an area larger than the City of Kelowna but an amount "significantly" below the seasonal average.
As of noon Thursday, campfires are banned in southern B.C. under orders covering the coastal, southeast and Kamloops fire centres.
Asked why campfires weren't banned sooner in the season, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said it's lightning, not people, responsible for nearly three-quarters of the new wildfires.
"People have been pretty cautious, and we thank them for that, but we leave it to the professionals to determine when they should bring in campfire bans," she said Thursday.