What you need to know about B.C. wildfires for Aug. 19
2021 is already the 4th worst season on record in terms of area burned
The latest on the wildfires:
- Cool and wet weather has calmed fire behaviour in many parts of the province.
- An evacuation order has been issued by the Coldwater Indian Band near Merritt, B.C., due to the July Mountain wildfire.
- Evacuation orders have been downgraded and alerts have been rescinded as conditions improve.
- Federal leaders on the campaign trail are trading shots related to the B.C. wildfires.
- For a full list of evacuation orders and alerts, visit Emergency Information B.C.
It's been a relatively calm few days on the front lines of some of B.C.'s most concerning wildfires, but officials are warning that the season is far from over.
With more than a month of summer left to go, this year is already the fourth most destructive wildfire season recorded in B.C. in terms of area burned, with more than 8,520 square kilometres scorched as of Wednesday evening.
It's looking increasingly likely that 2021 will surpass 1958's total of 8,560 square kilometres, putting it in third place, just behind the disastrous back-to-back seasons of 2017 and 2018.
A stretch of rain and cooler temperatures has helped to curb some of the aggressive fire behaviour that has led to widespread destruction, particularly in the southern Interior.
Numerous evacuation alerts and orders have been rescinded or downgraded over the last two days as the danger receded. However, one was issued on Wednesday afternoon for Coldwater Reserve #3 (Gwen Lake), south of Merritt, B.C. due to the nearby July Mountain wildfire.
But the B.C. Wildfire Service has warned that because conditions were so dry and hot for so long at the beginning of the summer, there is still a lot of dried-out fuel available for fires to burn through.
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Any period of drier weather — even if it's not particularly warm — could lead to more aggressive fires, fire information officer Erika Berg said Wednesday.
"If we do see some drying periods … windy days can result in fire behaviour increasing," she said.
Thompson Rivers University wildfire researcher Mike Flannigan says wildfires could burn until the snow falls.
"There may be some smouldering spots that survived the winter, and we give the term 'zombie fires,'" Flannigan said Thursday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "As long as you have some oxygen and some heat and some fuel, which in this case is vegetation, it will continue to smoulder…the fire is burning underneath the snow pack."
LISTEN | Fire researcher Mike Flannigan explains why wildfires could burn until snow falls
For now, the wildfire service lists the current wildfire danger as moderate across most of the Kamloops Fire Centre, which is home to some of the most concerning fires in the province.
One of them, the White Rock Lake fire, still burns across more than 800 square kilometres of land. It barelled through communities on the west side of Okanagan Lake over the weekend.
After cooler temperatures over the last few days, the Regional District conducted assessments and says five more properties are estimated to be lost to the fire, for a total of 75 in the Ewings Landing and Killiney areas.
CBC Kelowna's Jaimie Kehler says her 40-year-old family house in Upper Killiney Beach was confirmed burned down on Tuesday and she is waiting for permission from the district to visit the property.
"It's an emotional thing for all of us," Kehler said Thursday on Daybreak South.
LISTEN | CBC's Jaimie Kehler lost old family house in Killiney to White Rock Lake fire
Meanwhile, B.C.'s wildfire emergency is turning into a political issue as candidates hit the campaign trail in the federal election.
On Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau traded barbs with Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole over the federal response to the wildfires.
O'Toole questioned Trudeau's decision to call an "unnecessary election" while B.C. was in need of support, while Trudeau said the Conservatives were incapable of admitting that climate change was even real.
- A Lytton resident has filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National rail companies, claiming their negligence caused the fire that burned down her community.
- Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has joined a chorus of mayors and officials in British Columbia calling for more federal aid as wildfires continue to devastate parts of the province.
- Vancouver Island candidates from the four major federal parties say climate change is a key election issue.
Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately.
Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire.
To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.
Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.
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With files from Bethany Lindsay, Akshay Kulkarni, The Canadian Press and Daybreak South