Crews battling wildfires across British Columbia braced Friday for intense activity on some of the nearly 600 blazes in the province after the Wildfire Service issued a warning of extreme fire behaviour.
The warning can be issued when high heat and a lack of rain combine to strip humidity from the air, said information officer Forrest Tower.
“When (humidity) drops below a certain percentage that’s when we start to see increased fire behaviour as the fuels start to dry out. Because all our fuels are already pretty dry, when there is no humidity to help out, it just increases fire behaviour,” Tower said.
The warning was issued for a 583-square-kilometre blaze that has charred an area from Fraser Lake to Fort St. James in the northern Interior. Tower said gusty winds were also forecast for Friday, adding to the potential for dangerous fire behaviour.
High winds were also a key reason for an evacuation alert issued Thursday night to about 4,500 residents of Kimberley in southeastern B.C. as a 56-square-kilometre wildfire pushed north towards the city. An area southwest of Kimberley was ordered evacuated Thursday and the Wildfire Service recommended an alert be extended to Kimberley so residents would have time to prepare.
“Everyone has learned a lot from last year,” said Tower, referring to evacuation orders and alerts that affected tens of thousands living in B.C.’s central and southern Interior during the 2017 wildfire season.
“I think they just definitely want to be ahead of the game. … They just want everyone to be aware that there is a fire in (the) area, so they want to be really proactive with evacuation alerts, so people are well aware of the situation.”
He added: “It doesn’t mean that you have to panic.”
Fort St. James is one of the many communities in north and central B.C. threatened by the largest wildfire, called the Shovel Lake fire. Tower said the roughly 1,700 residents were anxious after weeks of being on evacuation alert.
“When a large community is put on evacuation alert for quite some time, we call it alert fatigue,” he said.
“It kind of sets in when people are constantly stressing about when or if an evacuation order gets put into place and it can increase stress levels quite a bit.”
The BC Wildfire Service also tweeted that it was seeing an increase in fire activity in the Kamloops Fire Centre, which was hard hit by major blazes in 2017, because temperatures were rising, relative humidity was dropping and winds were starting to kick up.
The service says 50 of B.C.’s nearly 600 wildfires were considered highly visible or potentially dangerous to people or property and those fires were burning in all areas of the province. That included Vancouver Island, where dozens of small lightning-caused wildfires at the northern end of the Island prompted a state of local emergency in the logging community of Zeballos as one of the fires burned close to its main access road.
Air quality advisories remained in effect across much of Western Canada due to smoke but Tower said some of it was lifting around the Shovel Lake fire, allowing helicopters to get into the air for the first time in two days.
The Canadian Press