Eyes on the weather as crews gear up for another week battling wildfires
Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, May 28, 2018 8:01AM PDT
Last Updated Monday, May 28, 2018 2:28PM PDT
KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Wildfire crews in British Columbia were watching the weather as a number of blazes burned Monday in several regions of the province.
Environment Canada was forecasting showers and cooler temperatures by Tuesday or Wednesday for most of southern B.C., but Kevin Skrepnek of the B.C. Wildfire Service says winds that come with that cold front are a concern.
The wildfire service lists three fires of note: the Tommy Lakes blaze in northeastern B.C., the Allie Lake fire northwest of Kamloops and the Xusum Creek wildfire west of Lillooet. Evacuation orders were in effect around all three.
Nine new blazes were reported since Sunday, including a 40-hectare fire that was listed as human-caused along the Chataway Creek forest service road midway between Merritt and Logan Lake in the southern Interior.
Smoke was visible from as far away as Kamloops and Skrepnek said the flames were being fought from the air. Both the Chataway and Allie Lake blazes could be buffeted by northwest winds that were due to nudge 50 km/h.
“If we can make it through the next 24 or 48 hours, it looks like the weather is going to shift to more seasonal,” Skrepnek said on Monday morning. “By Wednesday we are looking at fairly widespread showers for most of the southern parts of the province.”
June is traditionally a wet month and rain could keep a damper on wildfires in July and August, he said.
“What has been unusual about the fires we have had is how aggressive these fires have been,” he added.
“It's the kind of activity we would typically see in early July as opposed to late May.”
Recent high temperatures have pushed the fire danger rating over most of southern B.C. to moderate or high, and a large pocket in the northeastern corner of the province was rated as extreme.
Since the start of the fire season on April 1, 227 wildfires have been recorded across B.C., which Skrepnek said is on average with numbers from previous years.
The growth of the Tommy Lakes and Allie Lake fires prompted the wildfire service to impose restriction orders on Crown land because of concerns about the rapid spread of the flames and possible public interference with firefighting efforts.
The Tommy Lakes fire has charred 170 square kilometres of bush, while 27 square kilometres have burned near Allie Lake. Five square kilometres of timber have been lost to the Xusum Creek fire, which was burning on a steep hillside above the shores of Anderson Lake. The wildfire service issued a warning to boaters on the lake to stay clear of the area where firefighting aircraft refill.
Meanwhile, the province announced measures Monday to support community mental health after last year's devastating fire season.
The B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association is launching a telehealth program this week for those affected by wildfires. There's concern that as another fire season approaches, events might trigger past traumas linked to fleeing a fire or losing a home.
Stress symptoms can include insomnia, eating too much or not at all, consuming too much alcohol or just feeling overwhelmed. The Canadian Red Cross says seeking support is necessary if a person's daily life is impacted.
The province, in collaboration with the Red Cross, First Nations, Interior health authorities and the mental health association in B.C., is offering a community-led Facebook page providing a public forum for people affected by the 2017 wildfires. Mental health and wellness working groups have also been set up in Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, the Ashcroft area and Quesnel.