British Columbia

Homes evacuated as out-of-control wildfires grow in B.C.'s Interior

Evacuation orders have now been issued for homes near two growing wildfires in B.C.'s Interior, where an unprecedented heat wave has created dangerous fire conditions.

B.C. Wildfire Service crews battling uncontrolled blazes near Kamloops, Lytton and Lillooet

The Sparks Lake fire was first reported on June 28, 2021, about an hour northwest of Kamloops, B.C. Residents of nine properties in the area are now being told to evacuate after the Thompson-Nicola Regional District declared a state of local emergency. (BC Wildfire Service/Twitter)

UPDATE | June 30, 2021: Wildfires grow as heat wave continues to bake B.C. Interior

Evacuation orders have been issued for homes near two growing wildfires in B.C.'s Interior, where an unprecedented heat wave has created dangerous fire conditions.

The latest evacuation order came late Tuesday night for a number of properties in Electoral Area B in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, where some properties are threatened by the Mckay Creek wildfire, located 23 kilometres north of Lillooet.

The fire was first spotted on Tuesday afternoon, and by 10:30 p.m. PT it was already estimated at 5,000 hectares, or about 50 square kilometres.

Earlier in the day, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District declared a state of local emergency because of the Sparks Lake fire, located about an hour northwest of Kamloops, and residents of nine properties in Electoral Area J are being told to pack up and leave.

Kevin Skrepnek, the regional district's emergency program co-ordinator, told CBC Radio that police were going door to door at ranches and vacation homes in the affected area to let residents know it was time to leave.

"There's been a pretty significant increase in the fire activity out there, and as anyone in Kamloops can attest to, there's a very dramatic smoke column visible to the northwest," he said.

An evacuation alert has also been issued for another 150 properties in the Deadman, Red Lake, Tranquille Valley and Vidette Lake areas because of the fire. People in those areas have been told to prepare to leave if conditions get worse.

The fire has grown more than 12 times in size over the last day, and was last estimated at 2,300 hectares, or 23 square kilometres, as of 10:30 p.m. PT. The fire is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation.

The Sparks Lake wildfire is one of a handful of concerning blazes that have popped in B.C. over the last few days during a record-breaking heat wave that has come at the tail end of a relatively dry June.

Potential for dry lightning, winds

Temperatures in the B.C. Interior have shattered records this week.

Lytton hit 49.6 C on Tuesday afternoon, according to Environment Canada, and seven B.C. communities in all recorded high temperatures above 45 C.

Skrepnek said high temperatures and dry weather have everyone concerned.

"Obviously we're dealing with what is a pretty unprecedented event here," he said. "Not only is the heat lingering, but we're also expecting some pretty unstable weather over the next two days as well, so potential for dry lightning, potential for dry winds."

Further to the west, 46 firefighters and four helicopters were deployed on Tuesday to deal with the rapidly growing Mckay Creek fire. The cause is suspected to be human activity but it remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, crews were also dealing with the George Road fire, currently burning roughly seven kilometres south of Lytton.

Some of the terrain in the area features steep cliffs of shale not accessible to crews, according to fire information officer Madison Smith

Smith said that fire, which as of Tuesday evening was holding at 350 hectares (3.5 square kilometres), has nine firefighters working where the ground is not too treacherous. That fire is also suspected to be caused by people.

The Sparks Lake, George Road and Mckay Creek fires are classified as out of control by the B.C. Wildfire Service, which means that they are not responding to suppression efforts.

Another large fire, estimated at 3,000 hectares (30 square kilometres) has closed a section of Highway 97 near Buckinghorse River in the northeastern corner of the province, but it has not been deemed a risk to public safety.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the blaze is the result of two smaller fires merging. Conditions in the area are windy and dry, and crews are currently on standby to respond when it's safe.

'I can't believe how fast it moved'

The Sparks Lake fire started Monday afternoon, according to Smith.

She said 20 firefighters were on the scene Monday night, trying to contain each flank of the fire and protect structures that might be threatened. By Tuesday afternoon, 47 firefighters, six helicopters and six pieces of heavy machinery were responding.

Marshall Potts and Jo-Anne Beharrell live in Red Lake, about a kilometre away.

The couple believe they may have been the first to spot the fire and report it to officials Monday.

"I can't believe how fast it moved," said Beharrell, speaking to CBC Radio from her home on Tuesday morning.

"I could feel myself starting to tear up," she said, when she called authorities to alert them to the blaze.

They lost power to their home shortly before 10 p.m. Monday after flames burned through nearby electrical lines.

The couple, along with their multiple cows and chickens, are on evacuation alert.

WATCH | Couple watches smoke from B.C. wildfire:

Beach fire battle

Meanwhile, firefighters in Vancouver also worked to suppress a blaze that popped up Tuesday morning near Wreck Beach — a popular clothing-optional swimming spot near the University of British Columbia.

According to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, the fire was spotted at around 7 a.m. PT in the brush above the beach in the University Endowment Lands.

When crews arrived, they found flames reaching three to four metres high in steep terrain. An area of about 0.45 hectares had already burned.

The wildfire service was called in to help fight the flames and contain the spread, and crews were able to protect the surrounding forest and nearby structures. Tuesday afternoon was spent locating and dealing with hot spots in the brush.

The cause is still under investigation, but firefighters suspect cigarette butts or other discarded smoking material.

"A dry spring coupled with extreme heat has left our green spaces especially vulnerable to fire, and the potential for spread, loss of property or loss of life is very real. Please dispose of all smoking material in appropriate containers, including while in a vehicle," Vancouver Fire Capt. Jonathan Gormick said in a press release.

LISTEN | Fire information officer on efforts to fight 2 wildfires: 

With files from Radio West, The Early Edition, Shelley Joyce and Yvette Brend

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