British Columbia

Strong gusts forecast in B.C. and wind set to change direction, creating new challenges for wildfire crews

Winds are expected to shift direction and gusts could reach up to 40 km/h in parts of the southern Interior and 50-70 km/h in the southeast, creating potentially dangerous situations for fire crews battling wildfires.

More than 4,300 properties under evacuation order across province, 18,000 more on alert

Fire crews tackle the Nk’Mip Creek fire near Osoyoos, B.C., on Wednesday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Wind speed and direction have dramatically affected the wildfire situation in B.C. over the past two days, and Thursday evening's forecast shows it will continue to play a major role in fire behaviour. 

The B.C. Wildfire Service has issued a wind advisory for the province's Interior, southern Interior and southeast regions that extends to Thursday night.

"Wind activity may significantly impact fire growth in these regions," the advisory says. "The rate of fire spread will likely increase, and the direction of fire growth may change quickly on some wildfires."

Winds are expected to shift direction into Thursday night, and gusts could reach up to 40 km/h in parts of the southern Interior and 50-70 km/h in the southeast. This would create potentially dangerous situations for firefighting as the heads of the fires shift and wind speeds cause fires to spread and fuel to become even drier.

The wind will likely calm on Friday, but could return over the weekend.

Nearly 3,400 square kilometres of land have already been burned by wildfire since April 1.

Wind conditions feeding fires

Fire ecologist Robert Gray said wind essentially feeds wildfires, which means Thursday will be a challenging day for firefighters.

"The fuels are already dry," he said. "So we will see quite significant spread rates, long range spotting and very, very dangerous conditions."

Though fires tend to burn uphill, Gray said wind could influence the fire to move downhill. 

The "heat dome" that blanketed much of Western Canada in late June and early July, raising temperatures to record levels, prompted the start of the wildfire season about a month early, Gray said. 

"We're going to see things change year after year after year, trending to the worse situation," he said. 

"We're also going to see more of these exceptional events like what we saw in July with the heat dome and those trigger tipping points that occur sooner down the line. We're going to see things constantly changing and, unfortunately, changing for the worse."

A picture of the Nk'Mip Creek wildfire as seen from Oliver, B.C. (Submitted by James Moore)

Fire information officer Noelle Kekula said they're always watching the weather to determine what might happen with wildfires.

Wind tore through the Interior yesterday, causing the Lytton Creek fire to spread north. This prompted a new evacuation alert for 94 properties north of Lytton, which was destroyed by wildfire on June 30.

"We of course have our crews on it," she said. 

An incident management team has been on site since July 1, and 42 firefighters and four helicopters are fighting that fire.

Thousands on evacuation order

As of Thursday morning, more than 4,300 properties in B.C. have been ordered to evacuate. 

An evacuation order put in place Thursday morning near Seymour Arm, a community on Shuswap Lake, will be expanded as of 8 p.m. Thursday, according to Columbia Shuswap Regional District. 

A further 18,000 properties across the province are on evacuation alert, meaning they must be prepared to leave at a moment's notice. 

Fires burn on a hill near Osoyoos, B.C., on Thursday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

On Thursday afternoon, an evacuation order was expanded in the Oliver-Osoyoos area due to the Nk'Mip Creek wildfire. RCMP will help to expedite this order.

At noon on Thursday, an evacuation order was issued for 169 properties in the Spences Bridge area, as a result of the growing Lytton Creek fire. 

On Wednesday afternoon, residents of 356 properties in the central Kootenay communities of Edgewood and Needles were told to leave immediately because of the growing Michaud Creek wildfire, which was last estimated at 26.7 square kilometres.

The entire community of Ashcroft remains on evacuation alert and has been since July 14, as the Tremont Creek wildfire continues to burn nearby. The risk to the community remains low, according to officials. Sixty properties in the neighbouring community of Walhachin were ordered evacuated over the weekend

The Young Lake fire, located to the southeast of 70 Mile House, led to the evacuation of another 103 properties in the Bonaparte Plateau area of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

An evacuation order put into place on July 10 for the Whitecroft and Henley Lake areas were also downgraded to alerts Thursday evening.  

Several fires near the community of Renata, northwest of Castlegar, B.C., have merged into one fire, covering a total of around 2.1 square kilometres. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter)

Earlier in the day, about 168 properties in the Kootenay communities of Apple Grove and Fauquier were ordered to evacuate due to the 32-square kilometre Octopus Creek wildfire. 

"The fires along Columbia River, around Edgewood, Apple Grove, they've been spreading in all different directions," Gray said. 

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register online with Emergency Support Services, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

With files from The Early Edition, Tom Popyk, Jenifer Norwell and Johanna Wagstaffe


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