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With 12K lightning strikes in B.C. more wildfires expected to pop up

Lightning over Kamloops, July 1, 2021.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Dennis Kitto
July 02, 2021 - 2:33 PM

Roughly 12,000 lighting strikes were reported primarily in the Kamloops and Okanagan regions yesterday, starting 70 news wildfires with more lightning expected tonight.

Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said there are currently 136 active fires burning in the province, mostly in the Southeast Interior, Cariboo and up into Prince George area, with nine of those big enough to be considered wildfires of note.

“Yesterday we saw the storm systems track into the southeast of the province and then started to move into the Interior... as the night progressed," he said during a press conference, July 2. "Many of these lightning strikes hit near communities, as was seen in the Kamloops area."

A lightning strike caused a large fire in the Juniper Ridge neighbourhood in Kamloops late last night. The fire is now considered to be under control.

The lightning strikes started roughly 70 new fires yesterday mostly in the Southern Cariboo, Interior and Southeast regions but none grew beyond 100 hectares in size. With thunderstorms in the forecast for today, July 2, Chapman said there will likely be more tonight.

“We do expect to pick up additional fires from the lighting strikes yesterday and we already are today, likely to see somewhere in that same neighbourhood of 70 fires for today and are anticipating the potential for additional lightning heading into the early evening,” he said, adding the lightning will be focused in the Interior and Southeast corner of the province.

The forecast for the next 12 to 24 hours will likely bring no relief to the Southern portion of B.C. and the hot, dry forest fuels due to the weather will continue to hamper firefighting efforts, he said. The forecasted unusually hot weather and winds will also challenge firefighting efforts.

The wildfire service is working with the federal government to secure military resources that will assist with aviation resources and ground resources if the fire season continues.

Firefighters from across Canada will be arriving in B.C. on Sunday, Chapman said, adding the service is also putting in requests for resources next week.

Currently, 79,000 hectares of land has been burned this season, and through the weekend it will likely reach closer to 100,000 hectares, Chapman said.

“Generally speaking, we’re three weeks ahead of our drying cycle,” he said.

By comparison, in 2017 the fires didn’t start until July 7.

“In terms of what it means for the rest of the season, our core of the season is really July and August,” he said.

Some good news is the moisture that tracked throughout the province over the last 48 hours has allowed the service to shift resources to the southern parts of the province, but Chapman said it’s “appearing to look like a long season ahead.”

There are 1,302 homes that are under and evacuation alert and 950 that are under evacuation alerts in B.C. 

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the coroners service is investigating after it received two preliminary reports of fire-related fatalities near Lytton.

"We have sent a coroner's team. They are standing by, it's not safe to enter the area and once they receive the approval to go through the site, they will do that and they conduct their investigation and at that point we will be able to confirm, officially, if there are fatalities," she said. 

READ MORE: Two reported dead in Lytton wildfire

— This story was updated at 3:13 p.m. Friday, July 2, 2021, to include additional comments from the press conference.

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