British Columbia

Crews battling relentless wildfires face lightning in the forecast for parts of B.C.

Crews fighting dozens of relentless wildfires across British Columbia are keeping a close eye on the weather Friday, with dry lightning and little reprieve in the forecast for some of the areas hardest hit.

Thousands of people remain on evacuation alert as fires rage in Thompson, Cariboo regions

Traffic on Highway 97C passes a wildfire known as the Brenda Creek fire, 40 kilometres from West Kelowna, B.C., on Wednesday. (Radio-Canada)

Crews fighting dozens of relentless wildfires across British Columbia are keeping a close eye on the weather Friday, with dry lightning and little reprieve in the forecast for some of the areas hardest hit.

The Thompson-Nicola and Cariboo regions continue to be the epicentres for the largest and most stubborn fires in the province, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. Fire information officer Karley Desrosiers said crews are wary of the potential for lightning in those areas on Friday.

"For the southern half of the province, [it's] potentially dry lightning, whereas in the north, we're expecting to see quite a bit of precipitation," Desrosiers told CBC News in an interview Friday. 

"Unfortunately at this time, it would take a considerable amount of precipitation across the province to have any impact on the number of new fires and the fire behaviour that we're seeing."

The service has said it is being forced to focus on wildfires that threaten lives and safety due to a lack of resources.

Spokesperson Kurtis Isfeld said during a briefing Thursday issues like hot weather are affecting firefighting partners in other provinces, which means there are fewer resources to share.

"With the current resource challenges we have, we're unable to commit to all new ignitions," he said.

B.C. facing extended fire season

Lightning is believed to have caused 210 of the 305 wildfires current burning in B.C. Eighteen started in the last day, according to the service.

On Friday afternoon, the province announced that 100 firefighters would be arriving from Mexico on July 24 to help in the battle.

They will be tested for COVID-19 before leaving Mexico and then again when they arrive in B.C., and will be offered vaccines if necessary before they are deployed, according to a government press release.

Desrosiers said crews are grateful for any help they can get under such intense fire activity.

"Under these conditions, it's incredibly smoky, incredibly hot, and so that out-of-province support is incredibly important to be able to sustain [firefighting efforts] in the long-term," she explained.

"We're looking at extended seasons, so we want to be able to give our personnel the rest that they really need."

A wildfire burns near Ashcroft, B.C. on July 15, 2021. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Desrosiers said there were 94 out-of-province personnel in B.C. as of Friday, with another 21 people set to arrive later in the day. 

The service has said B.C.'s current fire conditions are more typical for the month of August, rather than mid-July. The smoke has led to air quality alerts for much of the eastern half of the province, with the haze expected to linger through the weekend.

Evacuation orders, alerts across B.C.

By Friday at 4 p.m. PT, there were 2,827 properties covered by evacuation orders and 13,749 properties on evacuation alert because of wildfires across B.C. In all, there were 34 evacuation orders and 57 evacuation alerts in effect.

In 100 Mile House, a Cariboo community of about 2,000 people that has been on evacuation alert since Wednesday, Interior Health is doing precautionary evacuations for some residents of long-term care homes and assisted-living facilities.

Another 45 people were moved to neighbouring communities on Friday, according to the health authority. In all, 90 long-term care residents and 29 assisted living residents have been transported out of 100 Mile House.

Cache Creek, B.C., west of Kamloops, is one of several communities on evacuation alert. The staff running Horsting's Farmers Market, along Highway 97, just north of town, have been preparing to leave this week.

"We are set up, amongst the staff and owners, to pack up and go at a moment's notice. Hopefully it doesn't get to that point, but like I said, it's not our first rodeo here," said manager Chelsey Nuli, referring to the record-breaking wildfire season that forced thousands to suddenly evacuate town in 2017.

Chelsey Nuli, a manager of Horsting's Farmers Market in Cache Creek, B.C., said a record-breaking heat wave along with an early wildfire season has been a challenge. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Nuli said the combination of a record-breaking heat wave in late June immediately followed by a ferocious early fire season has been a strain on agriculture and small businesses.

"With all this heat, we've got a crop coming in a lot faster than we have in the past and now nowhere to move it with roads being closed. We're losing revenue, we're losing customers being able to come to our market," she said. 

"June and July are our biggest months and unfortunately with these wildfires and road closures, I don't know how it's going to go."

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 with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

With files from Justin McElroy, CBC News Network and The Canadian Press

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