What you need to know about B.C. wildfires for Aug. 17

·5 min read
A plume of wildfire smoke as seen from the Coquihalla Highway on Sunday. (David P. Ball/CBC - image credit)
A plume of wildfire smoke as seen from the Coquihalla Highway on Sunday. (David P. Ball/CBC - image credit)

The latest on the wildfires:

  • Thousands of properties in B.C. remain under evacuation order Tuesday, including entire communities in the Interior.

  • Some of the largest, most dangerous fires are burning near Kamloops.

  • Tourists are being urged to stay out of communities impacted by wildfires.

  • Rain and cooler temperatures are in the forecast in coming days, which could be helpful for wildfire suppression efforts as long as wind remains calm.

Thousands of properties are under evacuation order Tuesday after 70 km/h winds fanned dozens of wildfires across B.C. over the weekend.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 86 evacuation orders and about 125 evacuation alerts in place.

The City of Kamloops, near many of the province's biggest wildfires, rescinded an evacuation alert that was in place for the western part of the city on Tuesday morning.

On Sunday, hundreds fled their homes under smoke-filled orange skies as evacuations were ordered in communities throughout the southern Interior. Others, however, chose to stay behind and try to protect their properties, which officials are condemning after 10 people had to be rescued by firefighters from the White Rock Lake fire on Sunday night.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre director Brian Reardon said firefighters had to be pulled away from controlling the blaze and put in more danger in order to save people who deliberately ignored evacuation orders.

"I think that [situation] speaks for itself. We really encourage people to gather your things and vacate the area to let the firefighters do their job. It's all about protecting lives," Reardon said.

The White Rock Lake wildfire remains of great concern for firefighters and officials, and is currently 780 square kilometres in size.

On Sunday, firefighters near Killiney Beach on the west side of Okanagan Lake were unable to safely leave the area because of aggressive fire behaviour. Crews were pulled off the fire, and because they could not travel, had to shelter in place until routes became accessible.

Reardon said the district had estimated 70 properties in the Ewings Landing and Killiney areas had been significantly damaged by the fire, with additional properties likely to be affected.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says they are searching for breaches in fire guards previously built to contain the flames following recent fire activity.

Poor visibility due to smoke grounded fixed-wing aircraft on Monday, but helicopters were available to assist with suppression efforts.

Artur Gajda/REUTERS
Artur Gajda/REUTERS

The Sparks Lake fire now covers 892 square kilometres, and is the largest wildfire burning in the province.

The Lytton fire complex, Tremont Creek, July Mountain and Mckay Creek fires are also of "significant" concern, according to Farnworth.

Since April 1, more than 1,500 wildfires have been sparked throughout B.C., scorching 8,055 square kilometres in total.

Thousands of personnel have joined the wildfire fighting efforts, including 500 people from out of province. Another 200 personnel are expected to arrive from other provinces this week.

Unclear how many properties damaged so far

Even as the Regional District of Central Okanagan confirms upwards of 70 properties have been lost to the White Rock Lake fire, other fires remain dangerously close to houses and residents.

There has also been "limited structural damage'' reported because of the Mount Law wildfire also burning in the district, said Laura Wilson with the district.

"At this time, we still can't confirm that number,'' Wilson said. "We're just working with B.C. Wildfire in order to get into the area to kind of confirm those properties.''

During a press conference Monday, provincial officials said it is unclear how many properties have been damaged or destroyed by wildfire so far this year.

Tourism discouraged

Several highways, including the Coquihalla Highway that connects the southern Interior and Lower Mainland, are closed or under a travel advisory due to wildfires burning nearby and in some cases, jumping the road.

Officials are urging tourists to stay away from areas impacted by wildfires.

"Now is not the time to be travelling to the Interior for non-essential travel," Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said during a press conference Monday.

The B.C. Wildfire Service has also asked people to stay away from areas affected by wildfires to ensure access and safety for first responders.

Boaters are also being asked to avoid areas of Okanagan Lake being used by air support.

Cooler temperatures in the forecast

A cold front moved through B.C. Monday, bringing much needed rain and cooler temperatures.

"While we have a couple of days of cooler weather forecast right now, winds continue to be an issue for our crews, making fire behave very radically and actively," Wilson said.

Later this week dry conditions will return to the province, but temperatures are expected to remain below the seasonal average for the rest of the week.

"We did receive ample precipitation in the Kamloops Fire Centre and some in the southeast," said Erika Berg, a fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Berg said the rain was enough to lessen the activity of some of the most active wildfires in the region overnight on Tuesday.

Environment Canada is predicting more showers in Kamloops and Kelowna this weekend.

Officials say long-term forecasts show the rest of August will be cooler than it's been all summer. A "mixed-bag" of moisture is expected, though little precipitation is forecast to fall in coming weeks.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately.

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire.

To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

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