More than 100 new wildfires have broken out this week in British Columbia as lightning and hot weather helped push the number of active fires to nearly 300.
Almost three dozen of those blazes have the potential to endanger people and property, and new evacuations have been ordered as the 325-square kilometre White Rock Lake fire pushes towards Highway 97 between Kamloops and Vernon.
The director of fire centre operations for the BC Wildfire Service, Rob Schweitzer, says that fire is particularly concerning given strong winds that are expected to increase fire activity and challenge suppression efforts Thursday and Friday.
Schweitzer told a news conference Thursday that the RCMP was helping with the closure of Highway 97 between the communities of Monty Lake and Falkland.
The Columbia Shuswap Regional District expanded its evacuation orders Wednesday night to include about 600 residents in Falkland, northwest of Vernon, telling them to register at a reception centre 50 kilometres away.
Schweitzer says the wildfire service has committed 125 structural protection personnel from 25 fire departments across B.C. to protect homes in the area as more than 130 firefighters and 13 helicopters work to suppress the blaze.
Elsewhere, some evacuation orders have been downgraded to alerts. The Thompson-Nicola Regional District says residents of 45 properties near the Young Lake fire northwest of Kamloops may return home. The Cariboo Regional District has partially rescinded an evacuation order in response to the Flat Lake fire south of 100 Mile House, but it remains in place for other properties at risk.
There were more than 60 evacuation orders covering about 4,200 properties in the province’s last update, while residents of about 21,000 others have been told to get ready to leave on short notice in case a fire encroaches on their land or their escape route.
The fire danger is rated high to extreme across B.C.’s southern Interior, Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast as well as much of Vancouver Island.
The wildfire service has responded to 1,387 fires that have scorched 5,730-square kilometres so far this season, Schweitzer said. The 10-year average for this time of year is 797 fires and about 1,220-kilometres square burned, he said.
Environment Canada is calling for showers over most of the province this weekend, possibly aiding firefighting efforts, but the reprieve will likely be short lived as hot, dry weather is expected to return next week. Air quality statements remain in place across southeastern B.C. due to wildfire smoke.
—The Canadian Press