British Columbia

Calmer weather helping B.C. firefighters, but winds expected to return

The B.C. Wildfire Service says a break in the weather has allowed firefighters to reduce the number of wildfires in the province to 183, but gusty wind in the forecast for Saturday is becoming a concern.

Number of active fires has dropped below 200 for the 1st time in days

Smoke is seen rising in front of the sun as a wildfire burns near Little Fort, B.C., on Tuesday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The B.C. Wildfire Service says a break in the weather has allowed firefighters to reduce the number of wildfires in the province to 183, but gusty wind in the forecast for Saturday is becoming a concern.

On Wednesday afternoon, Environment Canada issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Prince George area, but called it down after a few hours.

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said the overall pattern is for continuing hot, dry conditions but for now the situation has calmed down from the weekend, when more than 100 fires a day were breaking out.

"It is looking like the wind is going to be a little less than forecast. Any lightning should come with a little bit of rain," said Skrepnek on Wednesday morning.

Skrepnek said just 12 new fires were reported yesterday, and the number of fires burning province-wide has dropped to 183 from more than 200 on Monday.

But there is still the potential for gusty winds and lightning later today, particularly in the Cariboo and southern Interior regions of the province.

More than 200 wildfires continue to burn across the B.C. Interior. (CBC)

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said a low pressure system west of Haida Gwaii will send a couple of weak frontal systems across central and northern B.C. today and Thursday.

"Showers and scattered thunderstorms will accompany each of these troughs but mainly north of Prince George," she said. "There is only about a 30 per cent chance of storms south of Prince George."

And the long-term forecast is for the hot dry weather to continue later this week with the potential for strong wind on Saturday.

'It's just hard'

Greg Viscount, who lives south of 100 Mile House, says the waiting and not knowing what could come next is making local people anxious.

"All we know is we're under alert and that's it," he said. "Just don't have a lot of answers. … I've got a feeling we may have to leave."

Viscount says his biggest concern, if an evacuation order comes to pass, is looting.

"If it burns, it burns, but you don't want nobody taking your stuff," he said. "I have my rifles, got my quad, but there's only so much you can take when we have to go. The grandkids' bikes. It's just hard. What do you do?"

Tom Bachynski, who was evacuated from 100 Mile House, has slightly different concerns: his car dealership, and the 26 people it employs.

"We are shut down hard," he said. "I actually got permission to go in yesterday to unplug the coffee pots because they would have burnt the building down in another day or so."

Bachynski says he's helping out as much as he can while his business is shuttered: his current task is repairing a busted transmission on an emergency vehicle.

In evacuated 100 Mile House, car dealer owner Tom Bachynski worries about how his business will survive two weeks with no customers. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Williams Lake remains on alert

Meanwhile, crews have taken advantage of calmer conditions to make progress on fire guards near Williams Lake.

That's welcome news for tens of thousands of people living around the central Interior city, who have been told they must be ready to leave at a moment's notice if a nearby wildfire moves closer to the city.

"We are ready to go. It may not be necessary. Let's hope it's that way," said Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb on Wednesday morning.

For now, things are calm in his community, he said.

"The leaves aren't even moving this morning. I'm a little more optimistic this morning."

Nevertheless, officials are keeping a close eye on the wildfire burning just a few kilometres from town on the west side of the Fraser River.

"The last I heard, it was still about 10 kilometres away and still on the other side of the river. The concern is if it crosses the river," Cobb said.

People who want to leave can head north to Prince George at any time where evacuation centres have been set up.

If an evacuation order comes down, he hopes everyone will voluntarily leave town.

"If it is mandatory to leave, we would hope that everyone would leave. We have police here and military here."

An RCMP officer walks on a Williams Lake Road as wildfires fill the sky with smoke. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Evacuation order extended

More than 14,000 people have already been forced out of their homes by evacuation orders.

On Wednesday two existing evacuation orders were updated by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, affecting properties near Hallamore Lake, Electoral Area "A" and Clearwater and properties north of Dunn Lake.

A new evacuation order was issued Wednesday for an area south of the Chilcotin River to Abrams and Fletcher lakes, and two others were issued Tuesday for the Tatelkuz Lake area and the 100 Mile Fringe Southwest Davis Road Area.

Nearly 2,000 people from the 100 Mile House area in the Cariboo were told yesterday they'll be out of their homes for at least another week. An evacuation order affecting that region was extended yesterday as the 50-square kilometre Gustafsen wildfire burns west of town.

There was some good news for the roughly 400 residents affected by an evacuation order in Little Fort, north of Kamloops. The order was downgraded to an evacuation alert yesterday, although two wildfires are still burning east and west of the community — so officials have warned returning residents to be ready to leave again on short notice.

A roadblock prevents people from going into Cache Creek, B.C. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Check out our interactive map of the wildfires

With files from The Canadian Press