British Columbia

Number of wildfires in B.C. drops to 224 as rain, cooler weather provide relief

The number of wildfires burning in British Columbia dropped to 224 as much of the province experienced cooler weather with some rain on Tuesday.

The provincial state of emergency has been extended and officials remain alert

The Skaha Creek fire was over two square kilometres in size on Tuesday and has been declared 'out of control.' (Submitted by Meghann Fletcher)

The number of wildfires burning in British Columbia dropped to 224 as much of the province experienced cooler weather with some rain on Tuesday.

Emergency Management B.C. said there were 21 evacuation orders covering 3,754 properties as of Monday evening, down from 3,927 properties the day before.

Residents of another 6,073 properties were told to be ready to leave on short notice.

The provincial state of emergency, originally put in place on July 20, has been extended until at least Sept. 14, the B.C. government said in a press release.

"Things are trending in the right direction, but we must remain alert and aware of the fires still burning and the potential for others to start," said Mike Farnworth, the minister of public safety and solicitor general.

"Extending this state of emergency recognizes that the potential for significant wildfire activity persists, even as the nights get longer and the days cool down a bit, so I urge British Columbians to continue to be vigilant."

He said the extension will help support the ongoing response to the wildfire situation and will help ensure public safety.

Crew leader Brent King, of Australia's New South Wales Rural Fire Service, walks past an area where the B.C. Wildfire Service conducted a controlled burn to help contain the White Rock Lake wildfire. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Cooler weather brings relief

An upper low weather pattern has brought bands of rain throughout the southern part of B.C. and is bringing with it some hope for relief after a long summer of record-breaking drought and severe wildfires.

Environment Canada expects the rain to continue into Wednesday.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the cooler, wet weather is giving crews a break to build fire lines, set controlled burns, and beat back flames at some of the province's largest out-of-control fires.

"Having those temperatures decreasing and seeing that bit of precipitation in certain areas can also help see a decrease in fire activity," said fire information officer Shaelee Stearns.

"This means instead of seeing rank three and four fires, we could be seeking rank one and two, which means we can apply some direct attack methods."

A firefighter works on steep terrain to put out hot spots remaining from a controlled burn the B.C. Wildfire Service conducted to help contain the White Rock Lake wildfire. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Steve Meggait, owner of Fresh Valley Farms near Vernon, has been eyeing the looming White Rock Lake fire from his pastures suffering from drought.

He said a few days of rain won't solve the twin crises.

"I'm still not seeing enough rain to make any difference," he said. "[This year] is something else, and this is not enough to stop irrigating."

Planned ignition reduces risk of growth

The emergency operations centre for the central Okanagan says the B.C. Wildfire Service has completed planned ignitions around the destructive White Rock Lake fire that forced the evacuation of 1,316 properties west of Okanagan Lake.

The centre said the ignitions resulted in control lines being established in several key areas at the fire's northeast flank, reducing its risk of growth.

The wildfire service said in an online post that containment of the White Rock Lake fire might be achieved in the next seven to 10 days, "versus upwards of six weeks if the fire was left to naturally reach containment lines.''

Significant work took place over the last two weeks to clear fuel from the ground in preparation for the planned ignition, the service added.

The emergency centre said the fire service will provide recommendations as soon as possible on when local governments may lift evacuation orders or alerts.

It's anticipated that residents will be provided with a guide for returning home and invited to an information session by the middle of this week, it said.

Elsewhere, the fire service said the two-square-kilometre Skaha Creek fire near Penticton was not threatening any structures, and cooler weather with a chance of showers was expected to help crews make progress containing it on Tuesday.

The Skaha Creek fire is pictured on Aug. 29, 2021. (Submitted by Meghann Fletcher)

The City of Penticton has activated its emergency operations centre to support the response to the fire, while the Penticton Indian Band issued an evacuation alert for 240 properties as a precaution.

The B.C. government reports that 1,560 wildfires have scorched close to 8,660 square kilometres of land since the fire season began on April 1.

Environment Canada reports the months of March and May were the driest in the region on record, and 2021 has been one of the five driest years in a century.

Although the rain is bringing relief now, it might not last. Forecasters are predicting above-normal temperatures and a drying trend through September.

With files from The Canadian Press, Brittany Roffel and Tom Popyk