Smoke from hundreds of wildfires darkens skies over B.C.
Nearly 600 wildfires are burning across the province
Hundreds of wildfires burning across B.C. have blanketed large areas of the province in smoke and triggered air quality warnings.
Over the weekend, nearly 150 new fires were sparked by lightning strikes as a storm system passed over the province, raising the total number of wildfires burning across B.C. to around 600.
As a result Environment Canada has extended a special air quality statement for most of the southern half of the province.
The smoke is at its worst in the Okanagan and West Kootenay regions, where conditions are rated 10+ on a scale of one to 10.
Metro Vancouver issues advisory
On Monday morning, Metro Vancouver also issued an air quality advisory after a change in the wind pulled smoke into the region on Sunday evening.
"Elevated levels of fine particulate matter are expected to persist until there is a change in fire and/or weather conditions," said the advisory from the city.
Highway closures and delays
The smoke has also affected at least three highways, including 93S through Kootenay National Park, Highway 7 in the Fraser Valley near Seabird Island, and Highway 51 near Dease Lake.
Environment Canada spokeswoman Cindy Yu says air quality will improve slightly during the day on Monday as air moves, but it will get worse again at night when things settle.
"Unfortunately we are expecting a ridge of high pressure to build over southern B.C. in the coming days and that means little ventilation to reduce the wildfire smoke," she said.
Yu recommends avoiding strenuous activity outdoors until the air quality improves.
Evacuation orders and alerts
The heavy smoke is a double-edged sword for firefighting efforts, according to B.C. Wildfire Service chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek.
"It does sometimes hamper our ability to get aircraft into certain areas because of visibility. It also means we might not be able to detect fires because they might not be as visible," he said.
"The other side of that coin is that the smoke has actually cooled things off a bit. It is reflecting some of the sun's heat and trapping some of the moisture closer to the ground."
As of Monday morning, dozens of evacuation orders remain in place across the province affecting about 1,200 properties.
Evacuation alerts have also been issued to 5,600 properties, meaning residents must be ready to leave at a moment's notice if conditions worsen.
High winds in forecast
One of the most affected areas is the central B.C. community of Quesnel where thousands of residents are under an evacuation alert.
Skrepnek says high winds in the forecast for the area could make conditions worse on Monday and Tuesday.
"We are bracing for some fairly sustained winds in the northwest part of the province and that is where we are seeing a lot of these fires in that central B.C. corridor and further north."
So far this year, the province has spent $198 million fighting wildfires, compared with $308 million by this time last year.
Efforts are already underway to bring in more firefighters and aircraft to battle the flames, said Skrepnek.
"We are definitely beefing up and bringing in more resources," he said.