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Soaring temperatures new challenge for B.C. wildfire crews

The Nekertch Creek wildfire burning about 15 km northwest of Lytton is pictured in this B.C. Wildfire Service photo on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/B.C. Wildfire Service
August 07, 2018 - 2:35 PM

VANCOUVER - Lightning storms have abated across British Columbia after sparking hundreds of new wildfires last week, but officials warn a renewed hot spell means no relief for firefighters.

More than 460 wildfires are currently burning and BC Wildfire Service spokeswoman Kyla Fraser said soaring temperatures have replaced lightning strikes as the new challenge.

"We are expecting not so many new starts (because) we are over the worst of that lightning activity, but as the temperatures continue to increase we are expecting to see some increased activity on the fires that are currently burning," said Fraser.

An out-of-control blaze in a rural area of Vancouver Island, southwest of Nanaimo, prompted the Regional District of Nanaimo to declare a state of local emergency Monday night.

The nearly 1.5-square kilometre fire in the Nanaimo Lakes area broke out Sunday and grew aggressively Monday, forcing the evacuation of homes on its west flank and evacuation alerts for 77 properties on the east side.

With the evacuations on Vancouver Island, fires of concern are now burning in all six of B.C.'s regional fire centres.

Those include more than two dozen in northwestern B.C., including the 78-square kilometre fire that has forced the evacuation of Telegraph Creek and cut Highway 51 to Dease Lake.

In southeastern B.C., a 12-square kilometre blaze in Kootenay National Park has caused sporadic closures of Highway 93 and is being managed by Parks Canada and provincial wildfire staff.

Crews were making some progress containing the 120-square kilometre fire that forced evacuation of a wilderness lodge south of Princeton last week and the fire was 40 per cent contained on Tuesday, the wildfire service said.

Although the weather was not giving weary firefighters a break, Fraser said crews from outside the province were lending assistance.

"We have crews from Alberta, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan that arrived last week. Last night we saw some firefighters from Mexico, as well as firefighters and support staff from New Zealand arriving," she said.

Teams from Australia were expected to arrive in B.C. on Tuesday.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson plans to speak with the finance minister about the annual wildfire budget and whether it needs to be revised, considering the increased number of wildfires the province has experienced in recent years, a spokeswoman said.

The budget for the 2018 wildfire season was $63 million, but $131 million has been spent to date.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings and special weather statements for large parts of B.C. on Tuesday, calling for temperatures up to 40 degrees in some areas by mid-week.

Conditions were not due to ease until Friday or Saturday, when the weather office said showers and cooling temperatures were likely.

The wildfire service currently lists the fire danger rating as high to extreme across most of the province, with most of northwestern B.C. and the inner south coast, including Vancouver Island, ranked as extremely dry.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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