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Lightning storms across B.C. raise tension as wildfire danger climbs

The Shovel Lake wildfire, located 15 northwest of Endako, is currently 5,000 hectares in size. The photo from B.C. Wildfire was taken on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/B.C. Wildfire
August 01, 2018 - 11:31 AM

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Wildfire risks are soaring in British Columbia as lightning storms sweep across the province, sparking more than 300 blazes since Tuesday, the B.C. Wildfire Service said.

Wildfire service spokesman Ryan Turcot said dozens of the fires recorded in the last few days were in the Cariboo region, the area hard hit by last year's record-breaking fire season.

"The vast majority of these new fire starts are attributable to the lightning activity we have been seeing," said Turcot

Unstable weather began Saturday but hundreds of lightning strikes occurred Tuesday and Turcot said the storms were expected to continue through the week.

Separate blazes in southern B.C. forced evacuation orders for two backcountry resorts: the lodge in Cathedral Provincial Park, south of Princeton, and the Kootenay Park Lodge in Kootenay National Park, near the Alberta boundary.

Flames from a 15-square kilometre fire were creeping closer to the lodge in Cathedral Provincial Park and could cut into the single road leading to it, said Cameron Baughen, the emergency operations spokesman with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

"There are people who hike through that area, the hiking trails are magnificent, some of the best in our area, so people could be as far as a day or two away from the lodge and not be aware that there are changing conditions," he said.

Evacuation plans for the lodge began Tuesday, to ensure guests would be informed, said Baughen.

In southeastern B.C., Parks Canada said in a news release that its crews are managing several wildfires in Kootenay National and Banff National parks.

One of the lightning-caused fires sparked Tuesday was fanned by high winds overnight and was threatening Kootenay Park Lodge, while several park trails and three day-use areas were also closed.

Flames and heavy smoke also prompted the closure of Highway 93 between Radium and the Alberta boundary.

Increased wildfire activity also led to evacuation alerts for separate wildfires burning east and west of Quesnel in central B.C., while the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has expanded an evacuation alert to cover nearly 900 properties in the Keremeos and Cawston areas.

The wildfire service lists 10 fires of note, burning across five of B.C.'s six fire centres and Turcot urged extreme caution. He said several of the fires were extremely active Tuesday, driven by high winds.

"We are dealing with a lot of new lightning-driven activity. The last thing we need right now is human-caused fires to divert critical resources away from the fires we are responding to right now," he said.

Cooler weather and some rain is in the forecast for the upcoming long weekend, but Turcot called the shift a double-edged sword.

"When you get instability, you also get a little bit more wind, and wind can drive fire activity as well."

The wildfire service has recorded 1,085 wildfires since the season began on April 1, burning nearly 680-square kilometres of woodland.

A map of lightning strikes over the last 24 hours.
A map of lightning strikes over the last 24 hours.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/B.C. Wildfire
News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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