British Columbia

'Incoming weather' heightens fears for new wildfires

Fire officials are warning that new fires are expected to start and spread Wednesday and Thursday because of potential lightning strikes and strong winds forecast across the province, particularly in hot, dry southern B.C.

2 new small wildfires have forced highway closures near Nelson and Kamloops

An onlooker walks along the roadside between Clinton and Kamloops, B.C., on July 15, with smoke from a nearby wildfire billowing in the background. At the time, the village of Clinton was under an evacuation alert. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Fire officials are warning of an increased risk of new and spreading fires Wednesday and Thursday because of worsening weather conditions.

Strong gusting winds and potential lightning strikes are expected to start new fires and increase the growth of uncontrolled fires, particularly in the Cariboo Fire Centre, according to an information bulletin from the B.C. Ministry of Forests.

​"Weather's going to be a huge factor for us and we are expecting  a challenge in the few days ahead," said chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

We are also expecting some significant winds to be coming through in the 30 to 40 km/h range across most parts of the province, so that is ideal conditions for fires to start and fires to spread quite quickly." 

By Wednesday afternoon, it had already caused two wildfires. One is to the west of Nelson around Beasley Bluffs, which is now fully contained, but has caused the closure of Highway 3A between Taghum and Beasley.

The other fire is near Monte Lake southeast of Kamloops, which has caused the closure of Highway 97 near Paxton Valley Road. 

The Monte Lake fire was approximately 30 hectares in size and threatening structures as of 6:00 p.m. PT.   

'Ideal conditions' for fire spread

Winds were expected to shift from southeast to northwest before easing near midnight, then pick up again Wednesday. The risk of lightning will continue through Thursday.

The major wildfires burning in the Cariboo Fire Centre, with the exception of the Gustafsen fire, are classified as out of control.

Fire officials are concerned high winds could cause some fires to breach containment lines and spread further or create new spot fires outside of the main fire areas.

No rain in sight

Skrepnek said the forecast for Friday and Saturday continues to be hot and dry without any significant rain in sight. 

As of Wednesday, a total of 152 fires were burning across the province, with 15 new fires identified on Tuesday.

The fires have burned 379,000 hectares. The B.C. Wildfire Service estimates fire suppression has, so far, cost 145.2 million.