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Helicopters continue to battle intense B.C. fires

August 11, 2014  By The Times Colonist

Aug. 11, 2014, Victoria, B.C. - Crews battling huge wildfires across B.C. are bracing for a tough week as the hot and dry conditions are replaced by an unstable air mass bringing a menacing forecast of wind and thunderstorms.

By Wednesday, a significant change in the weather is expected as lightning strikes and winds move into some regions where large uncontained wildfires are burning.

Temperatures in parts of the Interior are expected to hit 36 C by Tuesday, but after that the high-pressure ridge is expected to break down and there is a 60-per-cent chance of rain in the forecast.

But Environment Canada meteorologist Jennifer Hay said if there is some rain, it will likely be around five millimetres on Wednesday and one or two mm on Thursday.

“Into Wednesday we will see showers with a chance of thunderstorms,” Hay said. “The rain is probably not going to be enough to help the forest fire situation.”


Even more concerning for fire officials is the wind that is expected, as the unstable system moves through much of the province. “With an unstable system you get gusty winds,” Hay said.

Vancouver is expected to be a pleasant 25 C on Monday, and on Tuesday may reach about 27.

Once the unstable system blows through B.C., Hay said, she expects another high to blanket the region with more hot and dry weather.

The largest fire in the province is the 88,600-hectare Chelaslie River blaze, in a remote area south of Burns Lake. The blaze is being fought by 218 firefighters, 19 helicopters and 20 piences of heavy equipment.

Hay said reports of heavy smoke were coming in Sunday from areas near West Kelowna and Peachland.

About 85 firefighters continue to battle the Drought Hill forest fire in the West Kelowna-Peachland area. The 40-hectare fire is about 25-per-cent contained. One family had been under an evacuation order that was downgraded to an evacuation alert.

Fire officials have asked local boaters to stay away from sections of Okanagan Lake where firefighting aircraft take on water.

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said with the Smith Creek evacuation still fresh in their minds, the forecast of wind and lightning is worrisome.

While he feels fire crews have done an excellent job of containing the Drought Hill fire, it could all change with the forecast winds by mid-week.

“The only thing that can change things here is the wind,” Findlater said. “It is not good news,” he added of the possibility of gusty winds and lightning by Wednesday.

He added that a forecast for high temperatures in the mid-30s starting Monday in the Okanagan “is very concerning.”

Findlater praised the work of the firefighters who have kept West Kelowna and Peachland safe. “These guys work very, very hard in unbelievable conditions,” he said.

He said it’s believed the Drought Hill fire was likely caused by a cigarette butt thrown out of a car.

 In the Prince George region, firefighters are making progress on the fires in the area.

Prince George Fire Centre information officer Susie Lassek said that despite the ongoing fires, air quality is not an issue. “Air quality is quite good today,” she said Sunday.

But the hotter weather predicted for the Prince George region may create some problems, she said.

“We may also see some lightning strikes, possibly Wednesday and Thursday,” Lassek said. “Thunderstorms, of course, are a huge concern.”

With resources and manpower being stretched to the limit, additional fire crews from Ontario and Quebec were called in. An air tanker crew from Alberta was in Prince George last week equipped with four amphibious skimmers, one bird dog aircraft and an air attack officer.

Provincial fire information officer Navi Saini said that along with the various crews from across Canada, two crews from Australia are helping with the battle.

The 80 highly specialized Australians are being sent to Prince George and Kamloops to deal with the fires this week.

“With such high fire activity, we have really stretched our resources,” said Saini.

he said across the province there are 197 active wildfires, with nine of those problematic. “Right now, no homes or structures are threatened,” she said.

Saini stressed that the public needs to stay out of any fire zones where fire retardant and water are being spread from the air.

Since April this year, B.C. has had 1,081 wildfires, while in 2013 the province for the entire year had 1,133. About $161.7 million has been spent fighting the fires so far this year, while at this time last year the figure was $86.9 million.


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