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Warning issued for high winds, lightning storm approaching Kootenays

Storm forecast to bring dry lightning, exacerbating existing fire situation: Minister Ma
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Barbara Smallwood took this picture from her Naramata home of the huge plume of white smoke that can be seen throughout Penticton and Summerland and all the way to Kelowna. It is a result of the two fires burning south of Keremeos. The province is warning residents in most of the southern Interior to be prepared for increasing fire risks and possible evacuations with a coming high wind storm. Photo: Barbara Smallwood

The province is imploring everyone in the Kootenays to be prepared for any situation, including evacuation, in the coming days as a storm develops and moves south to the region over the next 48 hours.

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for a cold front developing in the north that is expected to bring high winds and dry lightning, then move south between Thursday and Friday.

In addition, there is a highway alert from Paulson Summit to Kootenay Pass starting Thursday and into Friday for dry lightning and erratic winds that may reach up to 70 km/h, creating hazardous driving conditions, new fires and worsening existing fire conditions.

Bowin Ma, Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, said at a press conference Thursday the province and stakeholders are concerned about the weather system, given the extremely dry conditions and forecasted erratic winds and lightning.

With already dry conditions throughout the Interior, there is serious concern the storm will spark new fires and fan the flames of existing ones.

Ma stressed the need to be prepared over the coming days as the situation evolves, including having plans in place should people have to evacuate.

“When there is an evacuation order, you have to leave immediately,” said Ma. “We understand it is difficult to leave everything you know and love behind, but I must emphasize an evacuation order is not the time to wait and see, especially not under the conditions being forecasted.”

If people find themselves under an evacuation order, they should be prepared with a plan, including a “grab-and-go” bag with essentials, stay in contact with family and friends as best they can and head for the nearest safe haven, be it an established evacuation centre or a friend or loved one’s home.

Emergency Support Services, including accommodation, are available. People can pre-register at ess.gov.bc.ca.

If people do find themselves forced to leave, the province has the resources to support them, said Ma. Residents are urged to stay calm and alert and to be prepared

As of Thursday, 480 people are under evacuation order, and 4,900 people on evacuation alert, she said.

The southern half of the province, from Caribou to the southeast of the province, will be most affected, said Cliff Chapman, director for wildfire operations with BC Wildfire Service. This system will not be bringing any significant rain, he added.

Lightning has been the main cause of fires, and coupled with dry fuel, it will challenge the fire lines.

“We have the potential to see lots of new fires and the potential to challenge our air and tanker resources, and our ground resources as we are expected to see a number of new fires,” he said.

Once this season is concluded, there should be an assessment on how this season stacks up for previous seasons, he added.

Click on BC Wildfire Service for the latest conditions: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status.

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About the Author: Karen McKinley

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