Crews battling relentless wildfires face lightning in the forecast for parts of B.C.

Crews fighting dozens of relentless wildfires across British Columbia are keeping a close eye on the weather Friday, with dry lightning and little reprieve in the forecast for some of the areas hardest hit.

The Okanagan and the Cariboo continue to be the epicentres for the largest and most stubborn fires in the province, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. Fire information officer Karley Desrosiers said crews are wary of the potential for lightning in those areas on Friday.

“For the southern half of the province, [it’s] potentially dry lightning, whereas in the north, we’re expecting to see quite a bit of precipitation,” Desrosiers told CBC News in an interview Friday. 

“Unfortunately at this time, it would take a considerable amount of precipitation across the province to have any impact on the number of new fires and the fire behaviour that we’re seeing.”

The service has said it is being forced to focus on wildfires that threaten lives and safety due to a lack of resources.

Spokesperson Kurtis Isfeld said during a briefing Thursday issues like hot weather are affecting firefighting partners in other provinces, which means there are fewer resources to share.

“With the current resource challenges we have, we’re unable to commit to all new ignitions,” he said.

B.C. facing extended fire season

Lightning is believed to have caused 210 of the 305 wildfires current burning in B.C. Eighteen started in the last day, according to the service.

Desrosiers said crews are grateful for any help they can get under such intense fire activity.

“Under these conditions, it’s incredibly smoky, incredibly hot, and so that out-of-province support is incredibly important to be able to sustain [firefighting efforts] in the long-term,” she explained.

“We’re looking at extended seasons, so we want to be able to give our personnel the rest that they really need.”

A wildfire burns near Ashcroft, B.C. on July 15, 2021. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Desrosiers said there were 94 out-of-province personnel in B.C. as of Friday, with another 21 people set to arrive later in the day. She added that the service is “beginning to explore” international support.

The service has said B.C.’s current fire conditions are more typical for the month of August, rather than mid-July. The smoke has led to air quality alerts for much of the eastern half of the province, with the haze expected to linger through the weekend.

Roughly 65 evacuation orders or alerts were in effect across B.C. as of Friday morning, mostly in the Okanagan and Cariboo. Around 2,000 properties are under an order while an additional 12,000 homes are on alert. 

Cache Creek, B.C., west of Kamloops, is one of several communities on evacuation alert. The staff running Horsting’s Farmers Market, along Highway 97, just north of town, have been preparing to leave this week.

“We are set up, amongst the staff and owners, to pack up and go at a moment’s notice. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point, but like I said, it’s not our first rodeo here,” said manager Chelsey Nuli, referring to the record-breaking wildfire season that forced thousands to suddenly evacuate town in 2017.

Chelsey Nuli, a manager of Horsting’s Farmers Market in Cache Creek, B.C., said a record-breaking heat wave along with an early wildfire season has been a challenge. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Nuli said the combination of a record-breaking heat wave in late June immediately followed by a ferocious early fire season has been a strain on agriculture and small businesses.

“With all this heat, we’ve got a crop coming in a lot faster than we have in the past and now nowhere to move it with roads being closed. We’re losing revenue, we’re losing customers being able to come to our market,” she said. 

“June and July are our biggest months and unfortunately with these wildfires and road closures, I don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must 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.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.