Hot, windy weather pushes BC wildfire battle south

VICTORIA – The fight against the British Columbia wildfires will shift to the more populated southern areas of the province amid hot and windy weather, while cooler temperatures and rain are expected to bring some relief to scorched northern regions.

In the southeast corner of the province, near Cranbrook, an unconfirmed number of homes were lost to the out-of-control St. Mary River fire, British Columbia government and Aq’am First Nation officials said Thursday.

“We’re certainly seeing a shift further south,” Cliff Chapman, a spokesman for the BC Forest Fire Service, said at a news conference.

The rain forecast in the north will likely ease threats in the Fort Nelson area, where crews have been battling the massive Donnie Creek fire, the largest fire in British Columbia’s history, he said.

“But with that, however, we will also see continued hot and dry weather in the South, predominantly in the Cariboo and Kamloops fire hubs and the Southeast fire hub,” Chapman said.

“It will continue to trend warm and dry, and as we’ve seen with the St. Mary’s River fire, conditions exist for larger fires in the South.”

The BC Wildfire Service website reported 380 active wildfires Thursday with 22 listed as notable fires and 232 out of control.

There have been 1,246 wildfires so far this year, burning a record 14,500 square kilometers.

An evacuation order has been expanded and a new evacuation alert has been issued for multiple properties threatened by the St. Mary’s River Fire.

British Columbia’s wildfire fight will shift to the more populated southern areas of the province amid hot and windy weather, while cooler temperatures and rain are expected to bring some relief to scorched northern regions. #BCWildfires

“The next few days are going to be challenging,” Chapman said. “Our fuel conditions are as dry as we’ve ever seen them and that ranges from topsoil fuel, fast burning and fast fuels, grass and moss to large standing timber,” Chapman said.

He said the recent arrival of personnel and equipment from the Canadian Armed Forces and more international firefighters has strengthened BC’s firefighting capabilities.

BC currently has more than 2,500 firefighters working in the province, Chapman said.

About 100 firefighters from Brazil will arrive in BC on Friday, joining other foreign firefighters from Australia, Mexico and the United States already on the front lines, he said.

Chapman said the additional firefighters and the changing weather in the north are helping, but not what the province needs most.

“In terms of trying to end the fire season, we need a lot more rain,” he said.

Dave Campbell, a spokesman for the BC River Forecast Center, said much of the province is experiencing drought-level conditions, with most areas reporting stream flows have dropped to levels not normally seen until September.

“In most areas we are currently sitting a month, a month and a half, two months earlier than normal,” he said. “We have significant rain deficits to make up to really reset where we are.”

BC Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Preparedness Bowinn Ma urged residents last week to conserve water, suggesting shorter showers, but not imposing restrictions.

Meanwhile, the province announced a memorial procession and service will be held on Saturday for 19-year-old Devyn Gale, who died last week fighting a bushfire near Revelstoke, BC.

The procession in Revelstoke will include Gale’s BC Wildfire Service colleagues, a party of colours, an honor guard and representatives from first aid agencies.

Gayle died after she was struck by a falling tree on July 13.

“This loss is felt throughout BC. It is felt throughout the BC Wildfire Service, and it is felt throughout the world,” Chapman said. “It was devastating for us last Thursday with the loss of Devyn Gayle. We’re still really trying to support each other and support the entire organization.”

Three Canadian firefighters, including Gayle, died last week battling the hundreds of blazes burning across Canada.

Adam Yeadon, 25, died Saturday while fighting a wildfire near his home in Fort Liard, NWT

A 41-year-old helicopter pilot from Whitecourt, Alta., died after his plane crashed Wednesday during firefighting operations in the northwest province. Prime Minister Danielle Smith posted her condolences on social media to the pilot’s family and friends Thursday on behalf of Albertans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 20, 2023.

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