British Columbia

Wildfires bring smoky skies bulletins for B.C. Interior, but air quality improving

Although Environment and Climate Change Canada has downgraded air-quality warnings, wildfire smoke is becoming the "biggest issue" for residents and firefighters alike, according to one mayor.

Smoke now 'our biggest issue,' says mayor, as wildfires continue across province

Smoke rises from the 400-hectare Mowhokam Creek wildfire, near Lytton, B.C., on July 17. The B.C. Wildfire Service classified the blaze as 'Out of Control,' noting its smoke is 'highly visible from surrounding communities.' (B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter)

Wildfire smoke is becoming the "biggest issue" for residents and firefighters alike as this year's early wildfire season continues, according to one British Columbia mayor.

But after issuing air-quality warnings in previous days, Environment and Climate Change Canada said it's downgraded those to alerts about smoky skies, saying the air quality would be worse close to fires themselves.

The mayor of 100 Mile House told CBC News Network that the smoke has posed significant challenges.

"Our biggest issue is we have so much smoke that it is hard to fight the fire from the air because of the smoke," Mitch Campsall said Saturday morning. "That is becoming a big issue."

WATCH | Community is 'on edge' but prepared, says mayor of 100 Mile House, B.C.:

Mayor of 100 Mile House, B.C., says community is 'on edge' but prepared

2 months ago
100 Mile House in British Columbia remains under evacuation alert. The town's mayor, Mitch Campsall, says one of the biggest issues they've been facing is the smoke from the fire. 4:54

On Saturday, federal meteorologist Derek Lee said that although most of Friday's air-quality notices were rescinded, areas close to fires still have smoky skies bulletins — and those could be upgraded if conditions worsen this weekend.

"Over 24 to 48 hours, we are expecting wildfire smoke to impact the area," Lee said. "And if the conditions get worse, we will end up having to issue our air-quality advisories for these regions."

Although the air quality may have improved after local reports of extensive smoke on Friday, the air quality will be worse close to wildfires.

Firefighters spread fire retardant on a blaze near Vernon, B.C. The town in the province's north Okanagan region has seen several wildfires declared out of control in 2021. (Submitted by Marjorie Schaper)

"Near forest fires, definitely there is a risk," Lee said.

On Saturday, the province's Transportation Ministry implored drivers to avoid wildfire-affected regions.

Wildfires, the ministry said in a tweet, "are impacting travel in B.C. Please do NOT travel to areas on evacuation alert or to nearby communities."

According to the latest provincial data, a total of 1,096 wildfires have burned 238,971 hectares in B.C. so far this year. Two-thirds of the 16 new fires reported over the last 24 hours are believed to have been caused by humans, the rest by lightning, according to the province.

There are currently 305 wildfires still burning in B.C., roughly half of them declared "out of control," said Karley Desrosiers, a provincial fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service. She said "resources are sparse" but that an expected deployment of firefighters just arrived from Quebec on Friday night.

"Unfortunately, there was a considerable amount of lightning predicted based on the forecast yesterday," she told CBC News Network.

The majority of fires are in the Kamloops and Kelowna regions. The B.C. Wildfire Service declared several new fires as "of note" and "out of control" on Saturday.

Evacuation alerts, orders

Around 20 regions and First Nations are under either evacuation alerts or orders.

On Saturday afternoon, the Regional District of Central Kootenay issued an evacuation order for five residences on Applegrove Road about 70 kilometres south of Nakusp due to the Octopus Creek wildfire.

That fire is close to 1,200 hectares in size and is burning on steep terrain. The wildfire service says the fire is being driven by wind and dry fuel. More than 160 properties are on an evacuation alert due to the fire.

Later Saturday, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order for rural properties southwest of 100 Mile House because of the Flat Lake wildfire. It started on July 8 and is estimated to be 14,000 hectares in size.

The regional district also issued an evacuation order around 9 p.m. Saturday for 60 properties east of Ashcroft due to the Tremont Creek wildfire. The fire is classified as out of control and is currently 4,000 hectares in size. Nearly 700 properties are on an evacuation alert due to the fire.

Also, an evacuation order for properties between Stuart Lake and Babine Lake near Fort St. James in the province's central region has been downgraded to an evacuation alert after firefighters made progress on the Camsell Lake wildfire. It has been burning since last Saturday and is 310 hectares in size.

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 CBC News Network