Highway closed, evacuation orders issued as wildfires challenge fire crews across B.C.
Heat warnings expected to stay in place as unseasonal temperatures linger
A wildfire has closed more than 50 kilometres of the only highway through B.C.'s Chilcotin region, while evacuation orders remain in place for other parts of the province as firefighting crews face another tough day on the job.
Highway 20 was closed Tuesday afternoon between Tatla Lake and Anahim Lake because of a 7.5 square kilometre wildfire, just as the Ulkatcho First Nation was preparing a precautionary evacuation for elders from the area. It's not yet clear how the highway closure will affect those plans.
By evening, the Cariboo Regional District had significantly expanded an evacuation order related to the blaze, known as the Big Stick fire, saying there is immediate danger to the lives of people living in the area.
Meanwhile, more evacuation orders have come into effect in the Kamloops area as the largest wildfire in the province continues to push back against crews trying to bring it under control.
Michelle Nordstrom, an information officer with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said the district received word on Monday night that fire conditions were changing on the Sparks Lake fire north of Kamloops, pushing it closer to homes and other structures.
The newest orders cover 16 more properties near the Savona and Copper Creek areas of Kamloops, east of Vancouver. Those properties join the 170 also ordered evacuated by the regional district and the Skeetchestn Indian Band.
The fire is now roughly 402 square kilometres. The fire service said the flames "challenged" containment lines on Monday, leading crews to call in additional air support.
Nordstrom said there have been reports of buildings damaged or destroyed by the fire, but the regional district hasn't been able to verify them.
"Because of the volatility of the fire, because of how large it is and how fast-growing it is, it has been really challenging to be able to get in by land or by air to really assess some of the structural damage that may have happened," she said.
Relief in Okanagan Falls
In the south Okanagan, the wildfire east of Skaha Lake now covers 11 square kilometres. The service said Monday it has been burning southeast and away from the community of Okanagan Falls, southeast of Penticton, which made it safe enough for officials to lift the evacuation order in the area on Monday.
"Fortunately, at this time, we are not seeing the fire move in direction of the homes," said Karla Kozakevich, chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
People living on 77 affected properties have been allowed to return home, but evacuation alerts remain in place for their neighbourhood as well as hundreds of properties along the southeast corner of the lake.
Skimmers and helicopters flew over Skaha Lake on Tuesday to collect water to dump on the fire. Kozakevich said local RCMP sent one of its vessels onto the lake Monday to clear boaters out of the way, and again asked the public to stay off the lake as fire crews work.
North of Lytton, the small Fraser Canyon village virtually destroyed in a fire on June 30, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District had planned to begin downgrading some evacuation orders to alerts beginning Wednesday afternoon, but announced late Tuesday that fire activity was still too dangerous in the area for people to return.
In fact, a new evacuation order was issued Tuesday night for 17 properties in the Gladwin Mobile Home Park and Jade Springs area east of Lytton because of the Lytton Creek wildfire.
Another evacuation order was issued west of Fort St. James in the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District on Tuesday night because of a wildfire near Camsell Lake. It includes Yekooche First Nation reserves as well as portions of Rubyrock Lake Provincial Park and Sutherland River Park.
In the Central Kootenay, firefighters are asking for help tracking down more than $2,000 worth of equipment that was stolen from the site of a contained wildfire in Castlegar.
The missing equipment includes more than 300 metres of hose and six sprinklers that were used to protect a home in the area, and it's believed it was taken sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Heat warnings staying in place
The wildfire service said more than 300 fires continue to burn across the province, including 20 that started over the last two days. Wildfire risk across most of B.C. is ranked as high or extreme.
Heat warnings issued Sunday for parts of the central and southern Interior will likely remain in place until Wednesday.
The bulletins from Environment Canada said daytime temperatures could reach as high as 38 C, with little relief overnight.
There are also air quality statements in effect for the same regions due to wildfire smoke.
With files from Betsy Trumpener, Tanya Fletcher and The Canadian Press