British Columbia

'We need to be ready and have our families ready': Wildfires flare up across B.C.

Scorching temperatures and weeks without significant rainfall have allowed wildfires to pop up across B.C., forcing evacuations for hundreds of properties over the long weekend.

Hot, dry conditions leave the province vulnerable to flames over Labour Day weekend

The Finlay Creek wildfire burns near Peachland, B.C. (B.C. Wildfire Service.)

Scorching temperatures and weeks without significant rainfall have allowed wildfires to pop up across B.C., forcing evacuations for hundreds of properties over the long weekend.

​"Some unprecedented conditions for this time of year in terms of how dry it is right now, of course how high some of the temperatures are in many parts of southern B.C.," said Kevin Skrepnek with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

In the Okanagan, an aggressive wildfire near Peachland expanded to 10 times its previous size overnight, and residents of 55 properties west of Summerland were ordered to evacuate Sunday afternoon.

The Finlay Creek wildfire is now estimated at 1,000 hectares, up from 100 on Saturday night, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. Close to 400 are on evacuation alert.

Firefighters work to contain a fire burning near Finlay Creek, which is about seven kilometres from Peachland, B.C. (B.C. Wildfire Service.)

Gusting winds, blowing from the west at first and then the north, have helped the blaze to spread quickly and steep slopes have made it hard to contain, the wildfire service said.

The area has not had any significant rainfall in two months, and there is no rain in the forecast.

Meanwhile, a grass fire near Salmon Arm led to a brief closure of Highway 1 on Sunday, but crews were able to bring it under control, according to the transportation ministry.

Highway 99, north of Squamish was also closed for two hours Sunday afternoon after a car fire caused a forest fire to start.

'Potential that things could become more serious'

In the East Kootenay region, officials are telling residents to prepare their families as wildfires continue to spark new evacuation orders and alerts.

The entire Moyie Lake area has been ordered to evacuate because of a 400-hectare blaze burning about 18 kilometres to the southwest of Cranbrook. The Aqam Reserve to the northeast of that city has also been evacuated, thanks to a 398-hectare fire that is still growing.

And further to the south, near the rural communities of Newgate and Grasmere, a wildfire burning on both sides of the U.S. border has forced the evacuation of the west side of Lake Koocanusa. The fire is estimated at 454 hectares on the Canadian side.

The Linklater Creek wildfire is burning on both sides of the U.S. border. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

There's no rain in the forecast for the region, and Lorree Duczek of the Regional District of East Kootenay said residents need to stay alert.

"We've got more continued hot and dry conditions in our forecast, and some gusty and swirling winds in this area," she told CBC News.

"There is the potential that things could become more serious or more active on current fires, or that we could have new fires crop up."

There's no word yet on whether any homes or other structures have been damaged by the flames.

Duczek said current conditions suggest more evacuation alerts and orders could be on the way over the long weekend.

"We need to be ready and have our families ready, so that if the situation changes in our immediate area, we're ready to go on a moment's notice," she said.

A backcountry closure is also in effect for all Crown land in the Rocky Mountain District.

Meanwhile, the worsening wildfire situation south of the border prompted Washington Governor Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency on Saturday.

In B.C. there are currently 163 fires burning across the province.

On Sunday, several cities across the Southern Interior were rated at high risk under Environment Canada's air quality health index due to wildfire smoke.