B.C. wildfire concern as province braces for heat wave

Tuesday 29th June 2021 

Eleven fires are burning around the province, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. In the last seven days, 26 new fires broke out. 

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, pictured from the air earlier this week.

Amid warnings of a days-long heat wave to hit B.C. starting Friday, a major concern the threat of wildfires lurks.

Environment Canada has forecast a dangerously long-duration spike in temperatures to last until at least Tuesday, with daytime highs ranging from 29 to 37 C.

There are currently 11 fires burning around the province, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. In the last seven days, there were 26 new fires. So far this year 346 fires were reported with a total of just over 2,600 hectares burned.

“If we compare that to last year, at the same time we had around 665 hectares burned,” said Jean Strong, information officer at B.C. Wildfire Service.

There is one wildfire of note at George Road, south of Lytton. It has grown to an estimated 350 hectares. The fire is suspected to be human caused.

“At this time, there are no evacuation alerts or orders active. Those that had been implemented for the George Road fire near Lytton have since been rescinded,” Strong said.

Wildfire service specialized repel initial attack crews have been fighting the George Road fire. There are 48 firefighters, four helicopters and one piece of heavy equipment deployed on the scene.

The fire has been classified as “out of control,” which means the wildfire is not responding or only responding on a limited basis to suppression action and the spread is not being contained.

Another visible fire is at Eleven Mile Creek just outside of Hope. The fire is about 50 hectares in size but has started to burn back away from the highway.

“Unfortunately, that fire is also suspected to be human caused, but at this time there’s no structures threatened. It is not a wildfire of note,” said Strong.

Smoke billows from the Eleven Mile Creek fire near Hope. That 50-hectare blaze is ‘being held,’ considered under control. 

The Eleven Mile Creek fire is being classified as “being held,” which means sufficient action has been taken that the fire is not likely to spread beyond existing or predetermined boundaries with current and/or forecasted conditions. There are 48 staff, three helicopters and heavy equipment at the site.

“We are watching the current and forecasted weather, which of course is going to be quite warm,” Strong said. “With that being said, we are seeing some (fire) bans being implemented by cities or municipalities that might have their own bylaws.”

A 2021 First Onsite Survey found that one-in-10 B.C. businesses have been interrupted by wildfires, while three-in-10 businesses are concerned about future wildfires. Whether a fire hits a nearby community or not, the poor air quality that results from wildfire smoke is a threat to people’s health.

“Oftentimes we see particulate levels in the air in places like Vancouver that are 30 or 40 times the normal safe limit as a result of these wildfire smoke, even though the fire can be many 1000 kilometres away,” Jim Mandeville from First Onsite said.

“The real key message is that a little bit of planning can really help increase chances of your business surviving or increase your comfort level just as a regular citizen. We’re seeing is that more businesses and people have plans in place but it’s still a pretty small percentage.”

This week marks three years since wildfires ravaged B.C., marking the worst wildfire season in the province’s history, with 1.35 million hectares burned.

With many British Columbians planning to spend Canada Day outdoors, the B.C. government is encouraging everyone to exercise caution with fire use and prevent human-caused wildfires that could threaten communities.

“Canada Day often means spending time outside with family and friends enjoying our beautiful province,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “However, we all must ensure that our outdoor activities are respectful of the environment and don’t spark a wildfire that could put people in harm’s way.”