Seasonal weather to return, but lightning risk sparks new wildfire concern in B.C.

·3 min read

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government warned Friday that a return to more seasonal spring conditions is raising the risk of lightning-caused wildfires heading into the long weekend, after a prolonged hot and dry spell across much of the province.

The forecast for Fort St. John, in wildfire-embattled northeastern B.C., showed a risk of thunderstorms starting Friday night and stretching into Saturday.

Forrest Tower, a fire information officer in the region, told a briefing Friday that it's difficult to predict at an early stage where any precipitation or lightning could hit, and how the weather might affect current wildfires.

"As we get closer into these offshore weather systems moving into B.C., that's what is going to be affecting local weather here, then we'll have a better idea of the specific area and what that will mean in terms of precipitation and lightning."

In the southern Interior, Environment Canada said there was a risk of a thunderstorm in the Kamloops area on Saturday, with a chance of showers through Monday.

The province has said a transition to cooler, wetter weather is expected on Sunday.

Smoke was expected to continue to cause poor air quality and reduced visibility throughout eastern B.C. along the boundary with Alberta over the weekend.

Wildfire activity this season has so far been concentrated in northeastern B.C., where the Peace River Regional District issued an evacuation order Friday for properties in a rural area on the east side of Highway 97 north of Fort St. John.

The district said the Donnie Creek wildfire is threatening the area used primarily by industry. The blaze that had been mapped as 500 square kilometres in size on Thursday has since been updated to span nearly 1,200 square kilometres.

B.C. fire information officer Paula Walbauer said Friday that multiple fires in the area had merged into the Donnie Creek blaze, contributing to its larger size.

The district lifted an evacuation order for 850 properties in rural areas north of Fort St. John Thursday night, but residents must be ready to leave again on short notice.

An evacuation order remained in effect for the settlements of Buick Creek, Murdale and Mile 70 north of the city, where the 215-square-kilometre Stoddart Creek wildfire is burning about 25 kilometres away.

Mike Watkins, the director for the emergency operations centre for the regional district, said 446 properties remain under an evacuation order and 1,064 are on alert.

The BC Wildfire Service website listed just over 70 active wildfires in B.C. on Friday.

A statement from the province urged people to be prepared for wildfire and heat this long weekend by having an emergency plan in place.

Since April 1, more than 200 wildfires have burned over 1,350 square kilometres, largely within the Prince George Fire Centre. Of those fires, 85 per cent were human-caused and preventable, the government said.

Large, open burning has been banned across the province in an effort to prevent human-caused wildfires.

All open fires, including campfires, are prohibited as of Friday throughout the Prince George Fire Centre. The area spans much of northeastern B.C., including Fort St. John, and is where all four out-of-control wildfires are located.

Campfires elsewhere in the province have to be confined to 0.5 metres in height and 0.5 metres in diameter, with water kept on hand to douse the flames.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2023.

The Canadian Press