Hundreds of wildfires burn in B.C. as strong winds fan flames

Throughout B.C., fire crews are battling an ever-growing number of wildfires.

As of Saturday morning, 290 wildfires are burning in B.C.; 31 of them are considered wildfires of note by the BC Wildfire Service.

The Kamloops Fire Centre is seeing the largest concentration of wildfires of note, including the White Rock Lake fire between Kamloops and Vernon.

“There are many fires in the province right now and they all pose their own risks and their own challenges and many communities are impacted,” said Hannah Swift, fire information officer with the service.

White Rock Lake fire

The White Rock Lake fire continued to grow overnight Friday and into Saturday, especially along the eastern flank of the fire, west of Westside Road, according to officials.

The BC Wildfire Service estimates it is currently 550 square kilometres in size. Swift admits it’s difficult to get an accurate read due to smoke and rain creating poor visibility.

The fire has already caused devastating destruction, tearing through the community of Monte Lake and destroying properties.

The White Rock Lake Fire is now an estimated 550 square kilometres in size. The blaze has forced many to evacuate their properties. (CBC News)

The overall damage is still unclear, but previously, one resident spoke of watching her home and the homes of her neighbours burn while fleeing.

Many properties have been ordered to evacuate and nearly the entire city of Vernon — and some surrounding communities — are under an evacuation alert.

“If you’re in an evacuation alert area, get your bag packed and prepared for that to change,” said Swift.

“BC Wildfire Service does not take these evacuation orders lightly. They are there for a reason and they are there for your safety.”

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said on Friday that people who ignore evacuation orders knowingly put fire crews at risk.

Strong winds adding to the challenge

B.C. is incredibly dry. There has been little rain in many parts for months on end, creating tinder-dry conditions where wildfires flourish.

Adding to the difficulty, Swift says there have been strong winds in the White Rock Lake fire area. Friday evening they were gusting upwards of 40 km/h, she said.

“Strong winds are very problematic for wildfires. When the wind aligns with certain terrain features it can really accel it,” said Swift.

For example, on Friday, as winds traveled along Okanagan Lake, they gusted up to 50 km/h due to the terrain. That wind then pushes the fire, causing it to spread.

“It really poses a hazard for our crews as well because of the different ways it can push the winds and the changes it can make in fire behaviour pretty quickly,” she said.

Strong winds are expected to continue through Saturday in the area.

A picture of the White Rock Lake fire, taken by Monte Lake resident Stephanie Gamache. (Submitted by Steph Gamache)

A little fall of rain

One of the best tools in a wildfire firefighter’s arsenal is rain. B.C. has unfortunately been in short supply, particularly in the south.

However, Saturday brought some much-needed rain to the Okanagan.

“We’re hoping it will be helpful,” says Philippe-Alain Bergeron, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Whether that’s enough, again, It’s been such a prolonged drought and the conditions are so exceptionally dry.”

He says light rain will continue to fall on and off through the weekend. The area of Kamloops and to the north could also see quite a bit of rain, he said.

However, it is expected to be short lived. Meteorologists predict a high-pressure ridge will begin to build during the week, intensifying around Wednesday and bringing warm and dry conditions back to southern B.C.

“We have quite high confidence that is happening again,” said Bergeron

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

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