By Dirk Meissner
British Columbia’s wildfire fight is set to move toward the province’s more populated southern areas amid hot and windy weather, while cooler temperatures and rain are expected to bring some relief in scorched northern regions.
In the province’s southeast corner near Cranbrook, an unconfirmed number of homes have been lost to the out-of-control St. Mary’s River fire, B.C. government and Aq’am First Nation officials said Thursday.
“We are certainly seeing a shift further south,” BC Wildfire Service spokesman Cliff Chapman said at a news conference.
The rain forecast in the north will likely ease threats in the Fort Nelson area where crews have been battling the massive Donnie Creek fire, the largest fire in B.C. history, he said.
“But with that, though, we’re also going to see continued hot, dry weather in the south, predominantly in the Cariboo and Kamloops fire centres and the Southeast fire centre,” said Chapman.
“It will continue on a warm and drying trend and, as we have seen with the St. Mary’s River fire, conditions are there for larger fires in the south.”
The BC Wildfire Service website reported 383 active wildfires Thursday as of 6 p.m. with 22 listed as fires of note and 239 out of control.
There have been 1,257 wildfires so far this year, burning a record 14,556 square kilometres.
An evacuation order was expanded and a new evacuation alert was issued for multiple properties threatened by the St. Mary’s River fire.
“The next few days are going to be challenging,” Chapman said. “Our fuel conditions are as dry as we’ve ever seen them and that goes from the surface layer fuel, the quick, fast-burning fuels, the grass and the moss all the way to the large standing timber,” Chapman said.
He said the recent arrival of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and equipment and more international firefighters has strengthened B.C.’s firefighting capabilities.
B.C. currently has more than 2,500 firefighters at work in the province, Chapman said.
About 100 firefighters from Brazil will arrive in B.C. Friday, joining other foreign firefighters from Australia, Mexico and the United States already on the front line, he said.
Chapman said the additional firefighters and the weather change in the north are helping, but they’re not what the province needs most.
“In terms of trying to end the fire season, we need significantly more rain,” he said.
Dave Campbell, B.C. River Forecast Centre spokesman, said much of the province is experiencing drought-level conditions, with most areas reporting stream flows that have dropped to levels normally not seen until September.
“Most areas we’re sitting currently a month, to a month-and-a-half, to two months earlier than normal,” he said. “We’ve got significant rainfall deficits to make up in order to really reset where we’re at.”
B.C.’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma urged residents last week to conserve water, suggesting shorter showers, but did not impose restrictions.
The province meanwhile announced a memorial procession and service will be held Saturday for 19-year-old Devyn Gale who died last week fighting a wildfire near Revelstoke, B.C.
The procession in Revelstoke will include Gale’s BC Wildfire Service colleagues, a colour party, an honour guard and representatives from first-responder agencies.
Gale died after she was struck by a falling tree July 13.
“This loss is felt across B.C. It’s felt across BC Wildfire Service, and it’s felt across the globe,” Chapman said. “It was devastating for us last Thursday with the loss of Devyn Gale. We’re still really attempting to support one another and support the entire organization.”
Three Canadian firefighters, including Gale, have died in the past week battling the hundreds of blazes that are burning across Canada.
Adam Yeadon, 25, died Saturday while fighting a wildfire near his home in Fort Liard, N.W.T.
A 41-year-old helicopter pilot from Whitecourt, Alta., died after his aircraft crashed Wednesday during firefighting operations in the province’s northwest. Premier Danielle Smith posted condolences on social media to the pilot’s family and friends on Thursday on behalf of Albertans.
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