British Columbia

B.C. Wildfires 2018: Huge Alkali Lake and South Stikine blazes on course to merge

Two fires burning in the northwest part of the province are the B.C. Wildfire Service's top priority as crews scramble to save buildings and infrastructure in the area of Telegraph Creek.

2 fires burning in northwest are B.C. Wildfire Service's top priority

Heavy smoke from the now-combined South Stikine and Alkali Lake wildfires obscures Highway 37 in northwest B.C. (Phillipe Morin/CBC)

Two fires in the northwestern part of the province continued to be top priority for the B.C. Wildfire Service as crews scramble to save buildings and infrastructure in the area of Telegraph Creek.

On Tuesday the Alkali Lake fire burned through 27 structures in the town. Over 250 people have been unable to return home to the area.

"We're waiting to confirm how many of those were homes," said fire information officer Heather Rice. "We continue to work on protecting the structures and infrastructure that remain at Telegraph Creek. They had good success with that yesterday, so that helped build spirits."

More than 250 residents have been unable to return to the Telegraph Creek area. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

The Alkali Lake fire has grown to 90 square kilometres and is expected to merge with the South Stikine River fire, which is now 190 square kilometres in size. 

Rice says merging isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

"Merging means we have one fire to deal with instead of two so it can almost make it a little easier to deploy our resources to where we want them, to the primary areas in the flanks to pinch off the fire."

Highway 51 in both directions from Telegraph Creek to the Highway 37 junction in Dease Lake remains closed, with the fire burning alongside the roadway. 

B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson was supposed to get an aerial tour of the the fires around Telegraph Creek today, but on two attempts his helicopter was grounded by smoke.

Worker dies on Vancouver Island

In the Nanaimo Lakes area, a logging company employee has died while working on a 1.8-square-kilometre wildfire.

Kyla Fraser of the wildfire service described the death as a "very sad situation," but said the worker died of natural causes.

According to the province's workplace safety authority, the TimberWest employee was found dead in a vehicle south of Nanaimo around 10 p.m. PT on Monday. The worker was reportedly making a delivery to firefighters at the time.

The Alkali Lake fire has now burned 27 structures in the town of Telegraph Creek. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

There are currently 462 wildfires burning in British Columbia. Although the rate of lightning strikes has abated in recent days, the heat wave hitting much of the province has the potential to make existing fires worse.

"With this weather outlook, what we're expecting is not so many new fire starts but an increase in activity in some of the fires we're seeing now," said fire information officer Kyla Fraser. 

Heavy smoke from the now-combined South Stikine and Alkali Lake fires photographed from Dease Lake, B.C. (Phillipe Morin/CBC)

Kevin Skrepnek, who is with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said officials are keeping an eye on the forecast for the end of the week when a significant cooling trend is expected to hit the province.

"The real day we are focusing on is Friday," said Skrepnek. "Temperatures are going to drop, but that cold front is going to bring about increased winds and more than likely some thunderstorm activity. The X-factor in terms of those thunderstorms is going to be around rain." 

The province has spent $131 million so far this year fighting wildfires. More than 2,800 personnel, including crews from Australia, New Zealand and Mexico, are battling the flames.

Additional fire information

  • The Snowy Mountain wildfire near Keremeos is now 40 per cent contained after burn-offs Tuesday on the southeast flank helped with containment efforts. It remains 120 square kilometres in size.
  • The Verdun Mountain wildfire has grown to five square kilometres. On Tuesday, the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District expanded evacuation orders and alerts for homes to the southwest of Burns Lake.
  • The Nadina Lake wildfire burning about 60 kilometres south of the town of Houston is now 20 per cent contained and 57 square kilometres in size.
  • Further north, homes in the Elbow Lake area were ordered evacuated because of the Elbow Lake fire, which covers almost 6.7 square kilometres. Structural protection crews are working on saving some cabins.
  • Highway 93 South through Kootenay National Park remains closed due to work on the Wardle wildfire. 
  • A trailer full of wood chips caught fire along Highway 3 near Hedley Wednesday afternoon, setting off a small forest fire. Though firefighters have since extinguished it, the road had to be temporarily closed between Keremeos and Hedley while they dealt with the vehicle fire.
  • To the southwest, a new brush fire was ignited Wednesday along Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope. Police believe it began when a vehicle with a flat tire pulled over to the side of the road. The highway was closed while firefighters tried to contain the blaze.
  • All regional parks in Metro Vancouver are under an extreme fire danger rating. Campfires and barbecues are prohibited.
  • The campfire ban across most of the province has been expanded to Haida Gwaii due to unseasonably dry and hot conditions.

Wildfire map:

Evacuation orders and alerts:

With files from Yvette Brend and The Canadian Press

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