KAMLOOPS (NEWS 1130) – A combination of lightning and tinder-dry conditions has led to more than two dozen new wildfires starting in British Columbia over a two-day period.
Kevin Skrepnek of the BC Wildfire Service said the majority of the 17 fires that started Monday were the result of lightning.
Another 11 fires had started by midday Tuesday, bringing the total number of fires currently burning in the province to 146.
Since April, there have been 928 fires and just over 500 of them have been confirmed to be naturally caused while another 364 were human caused.
Skrepnek said the numbers are consistent with previous years where roughly 60 per cent of fires are natural and 40 per cent are caused by people.
Bans on campfires for most of the province as well as the use of off-road vehicles on public lands in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast fire centres remain in place as preventative measures.
“We remind everyone to remain vigilant … and just (be) extremely careful with any activity that could potentially spark a wildfire,” Skrepnek said.
Brent Barclay of the BC Ministry of Agriculture said an estimated 30,000 farm animals are within the fire-affected areas, and losses have not yet been tallied.
Roughly 500 ranchers have received support or information through emergency response crews and the province is spending $6 million on rebuilding fences along highways and Crown ranges to protect livestock and drivers.
Other efforts to support ranchers include relocating livestock or delivering feed, but Barclay said it’s unclear when ranchers and other agriculture workers can expect any financial compensation.
“The province is in negotiations or discussions with the Government of Canada around an agri-recovery program,” Barclay said. “I do not know when that will be completed but that is one of the first steps in the whole process to receive funding and that was initiated several weeks ago.”
Air quality and health impacts
Heavy smoke from the fires continues to pose a health risk for infants, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions, and is causing poor visibility on some highways.
An air quality advisory remains in effect for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley due to high concentrations of fine particulate matter.
Metro Vancouver expects this to persist until there’s a change in weather patterns, such as outflow winds which have been transporting the smoke out to the coast from the interior.
An adisory that already covered the southern half of the province has now also been expanded north past Smithers in northwestern BC.
Deputy Provincial Health Officer Doctor Bonnie Henry says conditions vary depending what time of day it is.
“It has actually improved quite a bit, though it is still pretty smoky in some parts of the Lower Mainland. I think a little bit of relief has come from the heat not being quite so intense.”
However, she says there has been a spike in people seeking medical attention.
“By time of day and it’s varied in different places –depending on how bad the smoke is in different parts of the province and so, we have definitely seen an increase in people who have needed medical care for respiratory conditions, but I don’t have exact numbers on that.”
She’s recommending people with medical conditions stay in well-ventilated and air conditioned environments, keep necessary medication handy and have a plan to get treatment if they experience complications.
While there is still no significant rain in the forecast to douse the fires, Skrepnek said inflow winds from the ocean are expected to roll in by Friday and clear the smoke hanging over the south coast.
The change in weather could bring cooler temperatures and rain, but he said it could also cause fire-fuelling winds to pick up.
For the latest information on evacuation orders and alerts in the Cariboo region, click here.
For the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, click here.
Follow Drive BC, Emergency Management BC, and the BC Wildfire Service for their latest updates.