British Columbia

B.C. surpasses worst wildfire season on record

Though many evacuees are safely back home, dry conditions across B.C. mean the wildfire situation remains unpredictable.

As evacuation orders are downgraded and evacuees return home, the situation remains unpredictable

A wildfire burns on a mountain in the distance east of Cache Creek, B.C., in the early-morning hours of July 10. Wind and dry weather continue to add to the fire risk. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

It's official: the B.C. Wildfire Service confirms the province is experiencing the worst wildfire season on record.

Wildfire Service information officer Kevin Skrepnek says an estimated 894,941 hectares of land has been charred in B.C. since April 1.

That eclipses the mark set in 1958, when 855,000 hectares burned.

"It's an accurate reflection of what we've had in terms of growth over the weekend," he said.

So far $315.7 million has been spent fighting the wildfires, creeping closer to the 2009 number of $382 million.

But the news isn't all bad. 

At its peak, more than 45,000 people were displaced from their homes. As of Wednesday, there are approximately 6,000 people on evacuation order.

There have been no new road closures for several days and plenty of good news for evacuees.

On Tuesday the Thompson Nicola Regional District lifted the evacuation order for the village of Clinton, which was evacuated two weeks ago, and surrounding areas to the south. 

In addition, orders for Spokin Lake, Soda Creek, and from Alexis Creek to Riske Creek have also been changed to alerts.

The evacuation alert for Williams Lake, the largest community to be evacuated, has also been rescinded.

On Wednesday, the Cariboo Regional District downgraded the evacuation order to an alert for the Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake and Charlotte Lake areas. 

Tinder dry conditions, wind and dry lightning have caused fires to spread aggressively in the province. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

And the massive Elephant Hill wildfire has not grown significantly over the past few days, allowing parts of Highway 97 to be reopened.

So is it over?

While it may feel like the wildfires have lost their momentum, especially compared with the frenetic pace at which they advanced and grew in July, conditions in many parts of the province remain tinder dry — meaning the danger is far from over.

At least 10 new wildfires have been recorded in B.C. over the last 24 hours.

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service, six of those were caused by humans and three were sparked by lightning. One remains under investigation.

B.C.'s wildfires have slowed down since July, but officials continue to urge extreme caution. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

There are still 28 evacuation orders and 40 evacuation alerts in place, placing more than 32,000 people under the stress of an evacuation alert.

Weather threat

The continuing possibility of wind and thundershowers mean that wildfires can be sparked and spread in previously untouched areas with little to no warning.

On Saturday a fire was sparked near Canim Lake, forcing residents who had not previously been under alert to evacuate from the area immediately. 

"Those areas were quite a distance from any alert or order at that time. So it was a bit of surprise to have that happen to those folks there," said Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond.

Kevin Skrepnek, chief wildfire information officer for the B.C. Wildfire Service, said that while rain and cooler temperatures offered a temporary reprieve last weekend, it will take more than scattered showers to significantly lessen the risk.

"The key message, unfortunately, is that for most of the southern part of the province, there's no rain in the forecast at this point. Certainly we've seen temperatures go down a little bit, but unfortunately the rain we saw over the weekend was a temporary fixture."

Conditions are set to get gusty over the weekend — which could spell trouble. 

"If we are seeing that wind without any accompanying rain, we are likely to see an increase in fire activity," said Skrepnek.

Chris Duffy, executive director of operations at Emergency Management BC, emphasized that the fire risk remains high and that the public should remain vigilant.

"We're urging people to be extremely careful with any activity that could spark a wildfire," said Skrepnek.

"We're continuing to see the increased likelihood of lightning-caused fires, which makes it even more critical to avoid any human-caused incidents."

With files from The Canadian Press