Wildfire threat grows as heat wave continues to bake B.C. Interior

Wildfire crews spent the night battling fires across B.C.’s Interior as a record-breaking heat wave persists in much of the province, with a growing number of properties threatened by the flames ordered to evacuate Wednesday. 

The Sparks Lake wildfire, 15 kilometres northwest of Kamloops Lake, is now an estimated 40 square kilometres in size.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says 35 firefighters are on site fighting the blaze, as well as several helicopters. Fire information officer Madison Smith said helicopters struggled with the heat on Tuesday, and some were grounded as their engines overheated. 

Not far away, the Mckay Creek fire burning 23 kilometres north of Lillooet has grown to 50 square kilometres in size and is classified as out of control. There are 22 firefighters on scene there, along with two helicopters.

A new fire was sparked Tuesday near Lytton, where the all-time highest recorded temperature in Canada has been registered three days in a row, and where crews have been fighting the George Road fire since last Wednesday. 

Bernie Fandrich, who lives on George Road in Lytton, said the fire started within a kilometre of his home. 

“There was a very, very competent crew,” he told the CBC’s The Early Edition. “They did a remarkable job in bringing it under control and protecting the residences around here.”

Now, he said the fire has moved up the mountain to the east of his home, and the air in Lytton has been smoky for the past two days.

The new blaze, the Conte Creek fire, is estimated to be about 1.5 hectares in size. 

All of these fires are suspected to be human caused but remain under investigation.

Evacuation orders, alerts

Evacuation orders were issued for several properties in Electoral Area B in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, as the Mckay Creek wildfire threatened homes on Tuesday. 

Nine properties in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District were evacuated Tuesday out of concern that the Sparks Lake wildfire would threaten homes and other structures. Another 18 properties were put on evacuation order Wednesday morning. 

The Sparks Lake wildfire also prompted an evacuation alert for 123 properties in the Deadman, Red Lake, Tranquille Valley and Vidette Lake areas. 

Marshall Potts and Jo-Anne Beharrell, who live about 1.5 kilometres from the fire, were evacuated on Tuesday afternoon.

They packed up their vehicle on Monday night, knowing they’d likely have to leave at the drop of a hat. 

The pair are staying with family in Pinantan Lake, about 75 kilometres away, with their two dogs. 

“It was very stressful,” Beharrell said. “The not knowing and wanting to get back and check on everything is really overwhelming.”

They had to leave their cattle behind, but left the gates open so they could get away if the fire comes too close. They also had to leave their chickens and two cats, which they couldn’t find. 

They hadn’t heard anything about the status of their property by Wednesday morning. 

Potts, a musician, says the area is a great place to be creative.

“We live in a beautiful part of the world up there,” he said. “It’s devastating to actually see so much devastation to that natural beauty.”

Hwy 97 closure

B.C. Wildfire Service information officer Sharon Nickel said Highway 97 north is closed from Bucking Horse River to 20 kilometres north of Trutch, in order to protect the public from the Pink Mountain wildfire in northern B.C.

“The highway will remain closed there until there’s no public safety concern,” she said. “We will have personnel on site to continue assessing the situation.” 

That fire is currently listed at 30 square kilometres in size. 

Nickel said everywhere in the Prince George fire centre is extremely dry right now, and she expects those conditions to continue. 

Possibility of lightning in forecast

While the air has cooled off in Vancouver, high temperatures look set to continue in the Interior this week as the “heat dome” moves east, with Kamloops and Kelowna forecast to hit temperatures in the high 30s and the low 40s in the coming days.

Vancouver Island and northern B.C., where fire danger is extreme, have seen lightning strikes this morning, according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. 

Those strikes will migrate east today, and new fire startups are likely. 

Environment Canada is predicting a chance of thunderstorms throughout the Interior on Wednesday afternoon and evening.

 

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