Spreading vehicle fire on B.C. highway prompts evacuation alert
Severe thunderstorm watches remain in effect as lightning sparks dozens of new fires
Residents of about two dozen properties along a stretch of Highway 3 in British Columbia's southern Interior are being asked to get ready to evacuate at a moment's notice after a vehicle fire quickly spread to nearby grasses and trees.
Wildfire service information officer Karley Desrosiers said the fire started around 1 a.m. Friday, and while the service was aware that a truck had caught fire in a "vehicle incident'' along the highway, the connection between the vehicle and the wildfire hasn't been officially confirmed.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says the fire poses no immediate threat of jumping the road.
The fire has charred about 30 hectares so far, under half a kilometre square, along the route south of Cawston.
Helicopters are supporting 34 firefighters to get the blaze under control on the west side of the mountain, she said, adding that it is slowing down as it reaches rockier terrain and is burning between the locations of two wildfires from previous seasons.
The evacuation alert issued by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen covers properties along the highway and Sumac Road, west of Richter Mountain.
Wind is primary driver of fire lately: wildfire service
Severe thunderstorms have been rolling through B.C.'s Interior, delivering hundreds of lightning strikes to areas already ranked at a high to extreme risk for wildfires.
The wildfire service has warned that gusty winds linked to thunderstorms can increase fire behaviour, but it says containment lines are stable on the southern and eastern flanks of the fire nearest to the communities of Keremeos and Olalla.
At the height of Thursday's thunderstorms, Environment Canada said Kamloops recorded a wind gust of 82 kilometres per hour, while gusts in Merritt reached nearly 60 kilometres per hour, and the city was drenched by more than 23 millimetres of rain, causing some localized flooding.
Thunderstorms on Wednesday also brought heavy rain to areas around Lytton, which was damaged by wildfires last year, causing mudslides that have covered the Trans-Canada Highway, closing the route between Lytton and Spences Bridge.
Severe thunderstorm watches remain in place for much of the southeastern Interior, from the Similkameen and Okanagan regions to the East Kootenays.
Heading into the weekend, Desrosiers said conditions are expected to be a bit drier, but also cooler, until temperatures are forecast to rise again next Tuesday.
Wind has been the primary driver of fire behaviour lately, she said, and is not expected to pick up strength again until later next week.
New fires remain small
The wildfire service's website shows 69 new fires over the last two days, including one suspected lightning-caused blaze near Monte Lake, the same area where a massive wildfire destroyed homes last year.
The new fires remain small, but more lightning is in the forecast for areas of southern and southeastern B.C., such as Penticton, where a 67-square-kilometre wildfire has forced evacuation orders and alerts.
As of Friday afternoon, there were seven wildfires of note across B.C. — fires that are particularly visible or pose a risk to public safety.
A new fire near Chetwynd, B.C., called the Hasler Flats fire, was upgraded to a fire of note on Thursday. The B.C. Wildfire Service said the fire, though less than one square kilometre in size, is "highly visible" from Highway 97.
With files from CBC News