Hundreds of Interior B.C. residents were on evacuation alert over the weekend as two wildfires in the province grew after a week of dry conditions during a heat wave in Western Canada.
The Keremeos Creek fire was first discovered on Friday about 23 kilometres south of Penticton in the Okanagan Valley. More than 300 properties were under evacuation alert as of Sunday afternoon, and 25 households were under an evacuation order that was being assisted by the RCMP.
Meanwhile, a large wildfire continued to burn near Lytton, a B.C. town east of Vancouver that was almost entirely destroyed by a fire in 2021. Fortunately most of the fire’s activity was taking place away from the town.
The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) said the Keremeos blaze had grown to more than four square kilometres in size after “aggressive and erratic fire behaviour” on Saturday, which was aided by high temperatures in the area that reached 40 degrees in recent days. There was minimal growth on Saturday night, but BCWS spokesperson Melanie Bibeau said on Sunday morning that conditions pointed toward the fire intensifying as temperatures rose throughout the day.
B.C.’s wildfire season got off to a slow start in the southern half of the province thanks to low temperatures, rainy weather and a robust snowpack in late spring and early summer. However, Ms. Bibeau said residents should be prepared now that persistent dry and hot conditions throughout the province have led to increased fire risk.
Forty BCWS members were fighting the Keremeos Creek fire on Sunday, and one helicopter was assisting ground crews. The service said heavy smoke was preventing another three helicopters from being used, and the terrain wasn’t currently suitable for an air tanker to douse the wildfire.
Meanwhile the fire near Lytton, dubbed the Nohomin Creek fire, has been burning since July 14, and is now estimated to be more than 29 square kilometres in size. The fire threatened communities on the west side of the Fraser River, which is opposite to the main town of Lytton on the east bank.
However, BCWS spokesperson Karley Desrosiers said most of the activity was now taking place on the northwest end of the fire, meaning that it was moving away from the areas where people live toward the south and east ends of the blaze.
The Thompson Nicola Regional District and Lytton First Nation have rescinded evacuation orders for some properties, but still instructed residents in the vicinity of the fire to be ready to evacuate if the situation changes. Roughly thirty other addresses in the Lytton area remained under evacuation order.
Eighty-nine firefighters and 11 helicopters were working to control the blaze on Sunday. Crews were working to extinguish remaining hot spots in the eastern side of the fire.
High temperatures are expected to persist in the Okanagan Valley, with highs at or above 30 degrees forecasted for most of the coming week in both Penticton and Lytton.
Ms. Desrosiers said those temperatures will at least be lower than the previous week in Lytton, when highs of 40 degrees were forcing crews to take 15 or 20 minute breaks every hour to stay hydrated and avoid heat exhaustion.
“Once we get up to the 40 degree temperatures it becomes a health and safety concern,” said Ms. Desrosiers, who said those temperatures are both favourable for fire growth and create a difficult environment for firefighters to work in.
Daniel Mundall, who lives in the Lytton area and had his shop and barn burn down in the Nohomin Creek fire last year, said people have been able to breathe a bit easier as the fire moves away to the north.
“There’s always a potential that something could flare up and there’s still stuff smoldering here and there, but it’s definitely calmed down a bit here compared to what it was,” said Mr. Mundall, who was already working on rebuilding the parts of his property that burnt.
“We’re going to start cleaning up here; we’ve got an excavator. We’re not wasting any time or waiting for help, it’s a matter of getting going and making things happen.”
Elsewhere, a large fire in northern Manitoba continued to burn, but the province’s wildfire service said favourable weather conditions were reducing the risk to a nearby First Nation. The Mathias Colomb Cree Nation has been evacuated for weeks because of its proximity to the blaze, which is estimated to be larger than 500 square kilometres. Another 42 wildfires were burning in the province, but the wildfire service said no other fires were posing a threat to communities.
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