British Columbia

Canadian Forces sending 225 more troops to help with B.C. wildfires

Provincial ministers gave an update on the fire situation on a day when weather will once again be key. Some areas could get some much needed rain but there's also the risk of lightning coming with it.

Announcement came on rainy Thursday when some evacuation orders were lifted

Canadian Forces personnel unload supplies for a community isolated by the B.C. wildfires Wednesday. (@MARPAC_FMARP/Twitter)

About 225 more Canadian Forces personnel will be coming to B.C. to help with wildfire response.

At a media briefing Thursday morning, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the troops will relieve RCMP officers guarding the roadblocks, which will allow them to take on other responsibilities.

"There's a lot of tired people who need a break, to spell out, and the fact that we're getting these ... Canadian Forces personnel is a big help," Farnworth said, while also praising volunteers, firefighters and others helping with wildfire response.

The new personnel, based out of Edmonton, will join the 150 Canadian Forces members already in B.C. helping to fight the multitude of wildfires raging across the Interior. 

Farnworth was joined by Forests Minister Doug Donaldson who said the new government has been in touch with its predecessors and the federal government on fire response. He says he is in touch with former minister John Rustad and both agreed the fires are a non-partisan issue.

When asked about the Filmon Report, written in the aftermath of the devastating 2003 fire season, Donaldson said not all recommendations had been acted upon, but the time for evaluating responses to the 2017 season would come later.

'Not out of the woods'

The ministers warned that the fire season is not close to being over.

"We're not out of the woods, so to speak, with the weather conditions," Donaldson said. 

Indeed, all eyes were on the weather in B.C.'s Interior Thursday, as crews continue to battle 150 wildfires across the province.

And the weather brought several pieces of good news: areas including Williams Lake received much needed rain, and lightning strikes failed to produce wildfires near municipalities, as they did earlier this month.

By Thursday evening, evacuation orders had been lifted for much of the area between the communities of Little Rock and Clearwater on the east side of the Fraser River. 

"This is the most rain this area has seen in weeks and probably the most they will see for weeks to come," said CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

For weeks, a stretch of hot, dry weather has worked against fire crews on the front lines.

​It won't last long, however: Wagstaffe says the thunder showers should only last a day and then move on over the Rockies, and the weather will be dry again by Friday afternoon.

Navi Saini from the B.C. Wildfire Service says they're hoping for calm winds and minimal lightning.

"It can be quite unpredictable," she said. "It could be great news in that we receive rain and decreased fire behaviour on some of our fires. But it could also lead to new wildfire starts."

Fires actually below average

Saini says in recent days, the lack of lightning has been a big help to firefighters.

Wednesday saw 12 new fires  — eight caused by lightning — but overall, he says, the province is actually below average in terms of the total number of fires.

The 10-year average is 702 fires for this time of year, and so far, there have been 688 fires to date in 2017.

"This year it just has been the human impact of the fires," she said.

"Usually we get lots of fires early in the season, grass fires in northern areas that are small, don't have direct impacts on life and property. This year it's really been those large, interface fires."

Saini said the rains are welcome news and will allow firefighters to carry out tasks they might not normally be able to, like building guards in interface areas.

The rains could also clear out smoke and improve visibility for aircraft.

With files from Lien Yeung and Anita Bathe