British Columbia

Requests from B.C. for more firefighters coming up short as temperatures rise

Requests from B.C. for more Canadian firefighters to help with the province's wildfire crisis are coming up short as summer temperatures rise across the country.

'The rest of the country is starting to steadily heat up,' says chief fire officer

Firefighters take a breather while battling an out-of-control wildfire near Princeton, B.C. earlier this summer. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

Requests from B.C. for more Canadian firefighters to help with the province's wildfire crisis are coming up short as summer temperatures rise across the country.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said Wednesday it is "running into shortages" when putting in requests for more fire crews to help battle 132 blazes burning across the province.

"We're utilizing these resources as the rest of the country is starting to steadily heat up," said Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer.

Hundreds of firefighters from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick have already assisted local crews since mid-July.

On Tuesday, Skrepnek announced that a contingent of 108 Mexican fire personnel will arrive this week and head to the Cariboo region in the Interior to help out for the first time in B.C.

Peak of heat wave

Skrepnek said fire crews are bracing for an "extraordinarily" hot stretch of weather forecast to begin tomorrow, which could be followed by dry lightning over the weekend.

"Until we see a significant downturn in temperatures, and certainly until we see any rain, it is only going to get drier out there," he said.

Overnight, 10 fires started but given the current conditions, he called it a "surprisingly" low number. 

With the weekend's forecast calling for thunderstorms in many parts of the province, he said the province's 3,300 fire crews are anticipating a "significant number" of new fires if lightning were to strike without rain.

The thick haze is another concern, he said, which makes it challenging to target flames from above ground. However, he also noted that smoke can have a "calming effect" by causing fires to be less active in some cases.

"It reflects a lot of the heat from the sun so the temperatures might not be as high as what has been forecast and it also traps a lot more moisture to the ground so that the humidity is higher, so it's not quite as dry," said Skrepnek.

Parts of the Interior have become so smoky, the air quality was rated 18 out of 10 on the Air Quality Health Index, or "very high risk."

Air quality advisories related to the wildfires have been issued by the province for much of the Interior, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

Alerts and orders expanded

Skrepnek said the most concerning fire at the moment is the Elephant Hill fire threatening Clinton in the B.C. Interior.

It's scorched more than 84,000 hectares and is only 30 per cent contained despite the efforts of more than 500 firefighters.

On Tuesday night, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District expanded its evacuation alert around Cache Creek to include homes southwest of Clinton due to this fire.

Further north, the Cariboo Regional District issued an expanded evacuation order for the Kluskus, Blackwater and Clisbako area, which is about 100 kilometres west of Quesnel. 

With files from Farrah Merali