British Columbia

B.C. fires: Harrison Lake wildfire increases six-fold in one day

An out-of-control wildfire burning near Harrison Hot Springs — roughly two hours east of Vancouver — has grown six-fold in the last day, say officials with the B.C. Ministry of Forests.

Wildfire Service says fire may continue to grow due to windy conditions in the area

An out-of-control wildfire burning near Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. has grown six-fold in the last day, say officials with the Ministry of Forests.

The fire on the west side of Harrison Lake, about two hours east of Vancouver, is now estimated at 600 hectares. That's larger than the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park — up from about 100 hectares late yesterday afternoon.

"The fire was burning yesterday and experienced significant winds that were in the area," said Donna MacPherson with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The fire was being fed by the tinder-dry conditions and fuelled by powerful winds in the area. 

"We wouldn't be surprised to see more growth on that fire today," she said. 

MacPherson added that crews, including the Martin Mars water bomber, have been dropping water and fire retardant for the last two days, focusing on its southern end in case wind suddenly shifts towards any structures. 

There are currently 135 personnel working on the fire today, as well as nine helicopters, two pieces of heavy equipment and an incident management team.

Campers at the nearby Wood Lake and Twenty Mile Bay campgrounds were told to evacuate as a precaution.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said the campgrounds aren't directly threatened, but the fire has affected the only road leading into and out of the sites.

RCMP officers have blocked the West Harrison Lake Forest Service Road until further notice.

More human-caused fires

The fire started on Sunday afternoon and quickly grew, producing heavy smoke throughout the popular recreational area.

"This area is in high fire danger rating and this fire was human-caused and preventable," said MacPherson.

"We need people to be a lot more vigilant when they're out there and realize that anything they do could cause a spark."

Vacationers who were watching the fire from the beach on Harrison Lake expressed their frustration that the fire was caused by a human. 

"That's crappy for sure," said Gord Harvey. "A lot of manpower, a lot of effort, a lot of waste."

The winds are currently pushing the fire north, away from the nearby community of Harrison Hot Springs.

"I think this is horrific. This is a very busy camping area and they've lost it because of an error of one or two people," said Ian Maw.

The fire is currently classified as Rank 4, meaning it is aggressive, but still mainly on the ground with short aerial bursts.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said only 18 of the 31 flare-ups over the long weekend were caused by lightning. The rest were blamed on people. .

"One human-caused fire remains one too many,"  Thomson said. "This continues to be a source of significant frustration to our wildfire service and to the province and to our ministry."

As of Tuesday, 140 fires were burning in the province out of the nearly 1,400 blazes that started since April.

Flames have so far consumed about 2,800 square kilometres of land — considerably more than the 10-year average of about 600 square kilometres.

The government has floated the idea of stiffer fines on people who start fires through negligence, such as throwing burning cigarettes out of vehicle windows or leaving campfires unattended.

A report on the proposal is expected sometime this fall, Thomson said.

With files from Dan Burritt, Farrah Merali and The Canadian Press