Photo taken Aug. 7, 2018 of the Island Lake wildfire burning through Francois Lake Provincial Park. Image: Facebook/John Calogheros

No B.C. region left untouched with 462 wildfires burning

More wildfires have started in 2018 than 2017, but those fires have burned far less hectares.

Thousands of firefighters are working around the clock to battle the 462 fires that are currently burning across B.C.

Unlike the unprecedented 2017 wildfire year, the 2018 fires are spread across the province with no region left untouched.

As of Aug. 8, 2018 more wildfires have started in 2018 than 2017, but those blazes have burned far less hectares.

“This year the fire season seemed to start later, but is more widespread with wildfires of note in all areas of the province,” says Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson.

“Major fires of concern include the Telegraph Creek fire in the northwest and the Snowy Mountain fire south of Keremeos. That’s an example of fires from almost the U.S. border to almost at the panhandle with Alaska.”

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth adds that there are currently 22 Evacuation Alerts and 17 Evacuation Orders in affect B.C. wide.

“The largest one is Telegraph Creek where about 250 individuals are under Evacuation Order and some 2,000 people are under Evacuation Alert,” says Farnworth.

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek says a total of 1,502 wildfires have burned more than 101,000 hectares of B.C. forests so far in 2018.

Significantly less hectares scorched compared to 2017 where a total of 1,353 fires burned through 1.2 million hectares.

“462 fires are currently burning across the province, a number that is fluctuating and definitely a high number. It is important to consider that when we have that sheer number of fires, we are seeing quite a bit of success out there, but some have developed into some with a bit more concern,” says Skrepnek.

“We had 44 new fires started yesterday, the vast majority of which were the result of lightning activity. Our cost estimate to date is currently sitting at $131 million. We are focused, first and foremost, on protecting public safety.”

Skrepnek says the BC Wildfire Service has more than 2,800 personnel on the ground right now battling the 25 wildfires of note and others across B.C.

“That includes over 1,200 contractors from the forest industry and about 100 out-of-province personnel. That number will increase as we see more arrive,” adds Skrepnek.

“We have 204 aircraft flying today in support of our ground crews.”

BC Wildfire incident command teams are now focused on addressing upcoming weather that is cause for concern. Thursday is set to be the hottest day this week, while Friday brings lower temperatures, but increased storm activity.

“On Friday we do expect a pretty dramatic shift in the weather,” says Skrepnek.

“That ridge of high pressure will break down, which means temperatures will drop but unfortunately we are expecting a cold front that will bring increased winds and thunderstorm activity. The X-factor in terms of the thunderstorms will be rain, because there is a good chance we will see a significant increase in lightning as well.”

He says they are keeping a close watch on weather models and are “bracing” for it to be a challenging day.

“On the weekend temperatures will be lower, but we have to get through Friday first to see what impact it will have on our existing fires and whether any lightning will spark new incidents out of that,” adds Skrepnek.

Minister Donaldson and Minister Farnworth had just completed an aerial tour of the fire situation in the lakes district before the press briefing Wednesday and said they saw a lot of devastation.

“We saw a number of large fires, trees burning, visible flames, large smoke plumes, vertical plumes as well as smoke across the landscape,” says Donaldson.

“We toured the Island Lake fire and saw pretty aggressive behaviour on that one. Very dry fuels and ground crews on containment.”

As for the structural loss in Telegraph Creek, the ministers said short-term emergency support has been made available and long-term support will be offered once teams are able to go in and asses the loss.

“Once it is safe to go back into community and do a full assessment of the damage in place then we can look at what help is needed and what area that assistance can come from,” explains Farnworth.

Donaldson says he has tried twice to get into the Telegraph Creek area to speak with local teams and evacuees but has been unable to due to the heavy smoke.

“We will be able to talk to people on the ground and hear from them directly, but I have to day I have just been so impressed by the support the community has provided to each other,” says Donaldson.

“The support they have also provided to the BC Wildfire service personnel. I was on the phone with one of senior people last night and he said he hasn’t seen anything like it in his 30 year career.”

While most of the province is under a campfire and open burning ban, Donaldson expects the entire province will be put on the ban as of noon Thursday.

“Be responsible in the woods and report any smoke or wildfire to 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on your cell.”

Skrepnek adds that the transition in weather Friday will cause smoke to lift across B.C., but that it could be fairly temporary depending on what the weather does.

Related: 27 structures lost in ‘volatile’ northern B.C. wildfire

Related: Smokier skies expected near Snowy Mountain fire

Related: Evacuation alerts due to Chutanli Lake Fire expanded; Shag Creek area put on alert

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@carmenweld
carmen.weld@bpdigital.ca

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