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Residents of the British Columbia community of Olalla are now allowed to return home after being forced out by a threatening wildfire last week.

But a fierce lightning storm that swept across the southern part of the province on Wednesday has sparked numerous new fires, with Environment Canada warning more storms were on the way.

Severe thunderstorm watches blanketed the B.C. interior from Prince George south to the U.S. border on Thursday.

BC Wildfire Service information officer Karley Desrosiers said the forecast of lightning, gusty winds and high temperatures could make firefighting a challenge.

But crews had plans in place to tackle new fires that may result from lightning strikes, she told a news conference.

The BC Wildfire Service website showed spot fires caused by lightning strikes on Wednesday dotting the Coastal, Kamloops, Southeast and Cariboo fire centres, including 10 starts on Vancouver Island, but all remain small.

Desrosiers said lightning is normal for July and August in parts of B.C., especially when temperatures get warm and there is more moisture in the air.

“We have not had nearly as much lightning as we did last year,” she said. “It was an exceptional year for lightning.”

Environment Canada posted heat warnings for the Fraser Canyon, north Thompson and inland sections of the north and central coast as temperatures in the mid- to high 30s were expected to continue through Friday in the Interior.

The weather office said Thursday’s forecast thundershowers were likely to pack winds gusting to 80 kilometres an hour, conditions the wildfire service warned could complicate work on the fire that had been threatening Olalla.

The blaze is located 21 kilometres southwest of Penticton and has scorched about 67 square kilometres.

The fire remains uncontrolled, and while the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen rescinded almost half of the nearly 500 evacuation orders covering properties closest to the blaze, 273 remain in place.

Nearly 400 properties are under an evacuation alert, which means they have to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The district said evacuation alerts for residents of the nearby village of Keremeos have been lifted, but the Apex Mountain resort and surrounding homes remain on evacuation order.

“Winds will be light, however strong erratic and gusty winds should be expected near thunderstorms,” the wildfire service said in its daily update.

“Crews have therefore been instructed to be prepared for increased fire behaviour and change in fire spread direction.”

The hillside above the Trans-Canada Highway between Lytton and Spences Bridge was also being inspected Thursday after heavy rain from the first round of storms caused mudslides that closed the route until further notice.

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