British Columbia

Lightning storm on Vancouver Island sparks new fires

Firefighters are dealing with a number of wildfires after a lightning storm moved over Vancouver Island on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, crews still having a difficult fight against Keremeos Creek wildfire

Firefighters with firestarting equipment light planned fires along a grassy, wooded hilltop.
B.C. Wildfire Service crews ignited controlled fires on Aug. 4 to try to prevent the growth of the Keremeos Creek wildfire, 21 kilometres southwest of Penticton. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Firefighters are dealing with a number of wildfires after a lightning storm moved over Vancouver Island on Wednesday morning.

Julia Caranci with the Coastal Fire Centre said there were more than 800 lightning strikes on the island as of 3 p.m. PT, sparking 10 new fires in the northern and mid-island fire zones.

"Fortunately, at this time all of those fires are still considered spot fires and so we are getting to them quickly," she said.

Caranci said it's possible more fires will be reported in the hours and days to come. 

"The thing with lightning storms is that lightning fires can smoulder in the ground for hours and even days," she said. "So it is highly likely that more fires could be reported from these strikes that we had today."

Caranci said the region could see more rain on Saturday. 

Neal McLoughlin, the superintendent of predictive services for the B.C. Wildfire Service, says they are monitoring a weather pattern coming from the U.S. 

"It's going to bring convection and instability, which results in thunderstorms, and thunderstorms bring lightning so we are expecting new starts," he said.

McLaughlin said it could also bring high winds that could speed the spread of active fires, while not bringing much in the way of rain. 

"So although [rain] may subdue conditions for a day or two, our indices are going to continue to climb and we're not going to see enough rain to put the fires out." 

Drones help tackle Okanagan blaze

Meanwhile, drones are helping map hot spots in a wildfire burning in British Columbia's Okanagan region, as cooler conditions help firefighters elsewhere bring blazes under control.

Crews are making progress on several wildfires in the province, including a blaze near Lytton that broke out nearly a month ago and destroyed several properties.

But B.C. Wildfire Service information officer Mikhail Elsay told a news conference Wednesday that crews are still having a difficult fight with the 68-square-kilometre fire southwest of Penticton in the Okanagan.

"While we have been making good progress, this fire is still uncontained and out of control at this time, especially on the western flanks.''

Elsay said new drone technology is being used to scan the fire's edges to ensure flames have been put out. The drone was operated overnight and helped crews understand what hot spots should be targeted, he said.

"This thermal scan allows us to really nail down the final spots, especially the tricky, rocky, deep burning root systems. These drones are very sensitive. They can pick up even very small amounts of heat. So we'll be able to really confirm the work that we're doing out there.''

The area where crews have made progress means that residents in about four dozen homes will be allowed to return.

However, more than 500 other homes, including the entire community of Olalla, remain under evacuation order.

Another 1,000 properties in the area are under an evacuation alert, which means residents must be ready to leave on short notice.

Highway 3A, which cuts through the valley where crews have been trying to control the wildfire, remains closed.

With files from The Canadian Press

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