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BC wildfires: shift in weather coming, but concerns remain over possible lightning

Last Updated Aug 9, 2017 at 3:49 pm PDT

(Source: BC Wildfire Service via Twitter)

There are 150 wildfires currently burning across BC

Close to $254M have been spent on fire suppression efforts this year

Between 6,000 and 7,000 people are currently forced from their homes

KAMLOOPS (NEWS 1130) – Crews continue to battle raging wildfires across BC, and are looking to a shift in weather to lend a helping hand.

But, it’s still too soon to tell just how helpful Mother Nature may be.

“Whether it’s a help or a hindrance remains to be seen,” explains Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Service. “Certainly getting some rain on these fires would be welcomed, but if we’re getting this unstable weather with it, it might be a mixed blessing.”

He’s referring to possible thundershowers in the south east, which could spark even more flames. This concern comes as the province saw 20 new wildfire starts on Tuesday, most of which lightning-caused.

Winds are expected to remain generally light until this weekend, and the shift to ‘inflow’ winds isn’t expected until Friday.

“Which should reduce some of the smoke concerns in parts of the province. We’re generally seeing the ridge of high-pressure that we’ve been under for the last few weeks is going to start to move east, so windier, probably a drop in temperatures.”

The BC Wildfire Service has spent close to $254 million on fire suppression efforts this year. Crews have responded to at least 940 wildfires since April 1st, which have burned an estimated 613,000 hectares.

By the numbers

The Elephant Hill wildfire continues to exhibit aggressive behaviour, fuelled by hot and dry conditions.

Mounties are still conducting an investigation into the cause of this fire, but say they’ve ruled some causes out.

“We’ve eliminated train rail line activity as a possible cause of the wildfire, meaning that it was not caused by train traffic or (maintenance-related) activities on the rail line,” says Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau.

A dedicated tip line has been created, and Linteau is urging anyone with information to call 1-855-685-8788.

Meanwhile, Skrepnek says the on-going difficult conditions are prompting the service to issue yet another reminder to remain vigilant.

“Respect the fact that we do have open burning prohibitions in place, that’s including a campfire ban for almost all of the province,” he explains. “Of course we do also have that off-road vehicle ban in place. Generally any activity that could potentially spark a wildfire, we want people to be exceptionally cautious about.”

He says the increase in lightning-caused fires further emphasizes the fact that human-caused fires are all preventable, and any of them diverts critical resources away from those caused by weather conditions.

Thousands of evacuees remain out of their homes as more evacuation orders are issued in parts of the province.

If you spot a wildfire or see anyone breaking any of the bans in place, you’re urged to call *55 55 or 1-800-663-5555.

Air quality

As air quality in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley is expected to improve with shifting winds starting Friday, you may have found yourself looking back on the summer of 2015 when we were under a similar notice.

According to Air Quality Analyst Kyle Howe, this is the longest continuous air quality advisory issued by Metro Vancouver. But, he says peak concentrations of fine particulate matter were higher two years ago.

“One thing that we did see in the 2015 wildfire event is that the areas experiencing higher particulate concentrations were mostly the western portions of the region, and in this event, it’s actually been the eastern portions of the region that have seen some of the higher p.m. concentrations.”

Howe adds he’s not expecting the change back to normal to be immediate, but will rather be gradual throughout the weekend.

Wildfires and tourism

As wildfires continue to devastate land and communities around the province, tourism in some areas has obviously been hit harder than others.

Maya Lange with Destination BC says some Cariboo and Central Interior communities are suffering because of evacuation orders and alerts, as well as campfire bans, park closures and back-country off-roading restrictions.

“We are collecting information,” she explains. “At this point, it’s just anecdotal.”

Lange adds efforts are also being made to clear up any misconceptions about all of BC being on fire.

“And unfortunately, some of our regions and communities that may be hundreds of kilometres away from the impacted areas have reported cancellations from folks across Canada, the US and overseas. This affects tourism businesses and can result in having to lay off employees in this sector.”

She says weekly monitoring is indicating no significant losses because tourists are simply changing their plans to visit other parts of BC. That means some other communities are benefiting from fire-related detours.

Lange says tourism has been good for a few smaller towns usually ignored by summer visitors.

“Tourism numbers are on track, but our data is not in real time, so we’re sort of monitoring it week by week, but it looks like we’re on track without any major significant impacts, so we’ll see how things continue to play out. It looks like most of the trips are being re-routed within the province.”

One of the communities getting the most traffic has been McBride –along the Yellowhead highway between Kamloops and Prince George– where an evacuation comfort centre has been set up for some of the nearly seven thousand people forced out of their homes across BC.

It’s also benefitting from the closure of Highway 97 north of Cache Creek.

Remember, you can listen live to NEWS 1130 anytime for the very latest on the wildfire situation.