British Columbia

Cooler temperatures, rain help B.C. firefighting effort, but relief may be short-lived

Overnight rain helped slow the growth of some of B.C.'s biggest wildfires, even as thousands of properties remain on evacuation alert.

Up to 27 millimetres of rain fell on some of the province's major wildfires

A man sits in a fire truck as the Lytton Creek wildfire burns in the mountains near Lytton, B.C., on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Rain fell on most of the province's major fires overnight on Tuesday, halting some growth. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Overnight rain combined with cooler temperatures has taken an edge off of some of the most aggressive wildfires among more than 260 burning throughout British Columbia.

Todd Nessman, the manager of fire operations for the B.C. Wildfire Service, said Tuesday that the reprieve was welcome after winds fanned fire growth over the weekend, including on the White Rock Lake fire, which destroyed as many as 70 properties west of Okanagan Lake.

The overnight rain and increasing relative humidity also allowed the reopening of the Coquihalla highway between Merritt and Hope for essential travel on Tuesday morning.

However, the rain also triggered a mudslide on Highway 1 between Lytton and Cache Creek. About 80 kilometres of the highway remained closed as of Tuesday afternoon.

More than 8,250 square kilometres of land in B.C. has been scorched since April 1. Most of the activity remains concentrated in the province's Interior, within the Kamloops Fire Centre.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, representatives of the B.C. Wildfire Service said the relief from the rain is expected to be short-lived, as deeper layers in the ground are still dry. 

"The amount of rain we received is not enough to reverse the impacts of the very dry spring and the summer we've experienced. There are still weeks ahead," Nessman said.

Forrest Tower, a fire information officer with the wildfire service, said the White Rock Lake fire will likely burn into the fall and winter, and will take natural processes to be extinguished. 

Fire information officer Erika Berg said up to 27 millimetres of rain fell on the eastern flank of the Tremont Creek fire, which had caused evacuation alerts to be put in place for Kamloops.

Though the rain is not expected to last, Berg said it has allowed firefighters to shore up existing fire guards and even contain some bigger fires. Crews are also assessing the possibility for controlled burns in some areas.

One of the biggest fires that has now been downgraded to "held" status is the Trozzo Creek fire northeast of Winlaw.

State of emergency extended

Even as the rain grants a temporary reprieve for firefighters, upwards of 8,000 properties remain on evacuation order with more than 22,000 on evacuation alert.

Evacuation alerts mean residents must be ready to leave their homes at a moment's notice. Evacuation orders mean residents should leave immediately.

The B.C. government announced Tuesday that the provincial state of emergency put in place July 20 to support the response to the wildfire situation has been extended until at least Aug. 31. 

"We've seen several large fires spread rapidly over the weekend in multiple communities throughout the province," Mike Farnworth, B.C.'s minister of public safety, said in a press release.

"As we renew this state of emergency for another two weeks, I want to assure British Columbians that we're taking every step possible to ensure the safety of everyone in these communities." 

The statement said the decision to extend the state of emergency will provide support for people who remain under evacuation orders and alerts and will support the potential of larger-scale evacuations that might come.

The Regional District of Central Okanagan said it planned to contact property owners on Tuesday to inform them about the state of their homes along the northwest side of Okanagan Lake after the White Rock Lake fire swept through the communities of Killiney and Ewings Landing late Sunday and early Monday.

The same fire, which now measures about 782 square kilometres, raced through the communities of Monte Lake and Westwold earlier this month, destroying homes and properties.

Forty firefighters and four supervisors arrived in B.C. from Yukon on Monday, raising the total number of out-of-province firefighters to more than 500, including crews from Australia, Mexico, the Prairies, and central and eastern Canada.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should 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 Akshay Kulkarni, Brittany Roffel, Courtney Dickson and The Canadian Press