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WILDFIRE WATCH: Be 'very, very cautious' in B.C. backcountry over Long Weekend

The BC Wildfire Service says there have been 1,342 wildfires since April 1, 2015, burning 276,000 hectares
A bomber drops retardant on a fire off Tillicum Road in the BX-Swan Lake region on Tuesday evening (July 21

Latest updates below of current wildfire news – evacuations, hectares covered, areas affected – from Black Press news staff across B.C.

B.C. Wildfire Report

The BC Wildfire Service is reminding the public to be cautious in the backcountry, especially heading into a long weekend, as temperatures start to return to the 20s and 30s.

"At this point, we are still seeing very hot and dry conditions... historically that reaches its peak in August," said the service's Kevin Skrepnek, on a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Skrepnek said Saturday is expected to be "very much a warm and a dry day," and is reminding campers to be "very, very cautious with any use of fire" – and to make sure campfires are extinguished before leaving the area.

"The rain over (last) weekend did not touch all areas of the province and had varying degrees of effect," he said, adding that the 'fire danger rating' remains "high-to-extreme" in some areas, with varied precipitation across B.C. and a general return to warm and dry conditions Wednesday.


The Wildfire Service also revised its total fire stats for 2015, saying that there have been just over 276,000 hectares burned across the province since April 1 – a drop of about 20,000 hectares since their last estimate.

There have been 1,342 wildfires so far this season, with a total cost of $162 million. (These are sharp jumps from last year, with 737 fires and a cost of $102 million.)

There are 135 fires currently burning across B.C. – 12 fires "of-note" – and 98 of them are lightning-caused, the Wildfire Service reports.

That includes four new fires on Tuesday.



Update from the Vernon Morning Star, July 29 at 8:00 a.m.

People living in Shelter Cove and surrounding areas may notice increased smoke at the Westside Road wildfire starting today (Wednesday) as a result of proactive burning operations.

These burning operations will take place in a controlled environment within the fire's perimeter to remove unburned fuels from the area and decrease the chance of the fire breaching containment lines.

"Due to the hard work of crews and recent precipitation, this wildfire is now 85 per cent contained," said Jordan Turner, an information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service.


Lake Cowichan Fire ServiceLake Cowichan

Update from the Cowichan Valley Citizen, July 29 at 9:00 a.m.

Firefighters from the BC Wildfire Service worked through the night to combat a blaze near the Lake Cowichan Highway at Skutz Falls turnoff.

The sky was still yellow and hazy when the sun rose Wednesday morning.

"It is still burning," Coastal Fire Centre Fire Information Officer Marg Drysdale said of the fire believed to be at least 10 hectares (25 acres) in size.

"It will continue to burn for a while," she said.



Update from the Vernon Morning Star, July 27 at 10:00 a.m.

An 'evacuation alert' for Bolean Lake and Chase-Falkland Road has been rescinded:

Residents in an area near Falkland are being told that the risk from a wildfire is over...

"The B.C. Wildfire Service reports that favourable weather conditions have led to a significant decrease in fire behaviour at the Bolean Lake wildfire," said Cliff Doherty, with the Shusap Emergency Program.

"This cooling trend, along with increasing containment levels, has considerably lowered the risk to nearby structures."



Update from the Nelson Star, July 27 at 9:00 a.m.

The 770-hectare Sitkum/Duhamel wildfire is on its last legs.

"Many areas of the fire are fully contained, mopped up, and are now in patrol stage," said an update on "Some areas at the north end of the fire are inaccessible to crews."

The fire received up to 10 mm of rain in certain areas Sunday which helped extinguish hot spots. It is now considered 90 per cent contained.



Update from the Kelowna Capital News, July 27 at 9:00 a.m.

An 'evacuation alert' for Shelter Cove/Westside Road has been rescinded:

Forest firefighters are continuing to monitor the fire while working to fully contain the blaze, which had peaked at more than 500 hectares in size since it began more than a week ago...

The public is asked to obey all warning and hazards signs and watch for any firefighters and fire suppression vehicles that are still working in this area.

West Kelowna evacuation alert

The Shelter Cove/Westside Road wildfire evacuation alert has been rescinded. (Image Credit: BC Wildlife/Contributor)


1,320 total fires in B.C. for 2015 – total hectares: 296,000; total cost: $149 million

(Update from the BC Wildfire Service by Kolby Solinsky, July 24 at 1 p.m.)

There are currently 209 fires still burning throughout British Columbia – 160 of those are lightning caused, according to Kevin Skrepnek from the BC Wildfire Service.

To-date, that brings B.C.'s 2015 numbers to 1,320 total fires across the province since April 1, burning an estimated 296,000 hectares, with a total cost of over $149 million.

That's a sharp increase over last year's numbers and the average numbers of the past 10 years, according to the Wildfire Service.

In 2014, there were 681 total fires by July 24, burning 188,000 hectares at a total cost of $87 million. From 2005 to 2014, the average numbers were 767 total fires and 44,000 hectares burned.

Skrepnek said a low-pressure system is moving from B.C.'s west coast and bringing showers to most areas of the province, and there has been a 10-degree drop in temperature on Vancouver Island.

The weekend will remain "cool and cloudy," the Wildfire Service predicts, with another low-pressure system at the end of next week.

"We're seeing a very good initial attack rate," said Skrepnek, who added that cool weather and higher humidity is currently "buying crucial time" for fire crews and responders.

There are currently 2,300 people across B.C. on fire lines and in support positions, which includes around 150 personnel from out-of-province (50 Australians and 100 from Ontario).

And despite the cooler weather and a dropping amount of fires burning through the province – there are 16 of-note throughout the province – the Wildfire Service is encouraging the public to stay cautious.

"We do just want to make sure people aren't getting complacent out there," said Skrepnek. "At this point, we have obviously seen this shift but it's not necessarily going to be lingering for too, too long... It is only late July, historically in B.C. some of our busiest times from a fire perspective are still in the weeks ahead of us now."



Update from the Vernon Morning Star, July 24 at 10:00 a.m.

On Friday morning, the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District lifted the evacuation order for the Bolean Lake Lodge.

"Residents within the existing evacuation order are now permitted to return to their properties but remain on evacuation alert and must be prepared to evacuate at short notice if required," said a CSRD release.

An evacuation order also remains for properties evacuation for Chase-Falkland Road north of Falkland to the Aurthur Creek Forest Service Road and east to Bolean Lake.

50 per cent of the 350-hectare wildfire is contained.



Update from the Kelowna Capital News, July 24 at 11:00 a.m.

The Evacuation Order for residents affected by the Westside/Shelter Cove fire has been downgraded to an Evacuation Alert:

... residents should be prepared to leave their homes on short notice in the event that conditions change and the Evacuation Order is reinstated.

The fire has 25 per cent containment however those returning should be aware that active fire suppression continues in the area west of Westside Road. The area is not safe for the public and for safety reasons people should stay out. Visible smoke may continue rising from the fire site. Those returning may encounter various hazards on private properties as a result of the forest fire. Again, please stay out of fire-affected areas.



Update from the North Thompson Times, July 24 at 9:17 a.m.

An evacuation alert issued Tuesday afternoon for six properties located a few kilometers north of the north end of Adams Lake was rescinded at 5 p.m. on Thursday.



Update from the Kelowna Capital News, July 23 at 11:00 a.m.

The Westside Road wildfire – near Kelowna – reached 460 hectares in size on Thursday morning. There are 60 firefighter assigned to fight the blaze, according to the Capital News:

"Airtankers responded to slow the rate of spread along the southern portion of the fire, where fire activity included open flame and some trees candling. Three helicopters also assisted ground crews in this region, bucketing pockets of active fire."


Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the area with B.C. Premier Christy Clark – whose riding is Westside-Kelowna – and thanked firefighters and first responders for their efforts.

"We know these are tough and they're sometimes dangerous jobs and these efforts really are appreciated by everybody," Harper said.


Nearing 300,000 hectares of scorched earth

(Update from Jeff Nagel, Black Press – July 23 at 2:40 p.m.)

B.C.'s summer of wildfires is close to passing a major milestone – 300,000 hectares burned.

As of Thursday, 295,400 hectares have been devoured by a total of 1,314 wildfires, at a firefighting cost of $140 million and climbing. (See interactive chart of fire statistics below.)

And officials with the B.C. Wildfire Service see little chance of it halting here.

"August has typically been the busiest month for fire activity," said fire information officer Navi Saini.

Twenty-two more fires were sparked Wednesday, mostly by lightning.

"We've had exceptional initial attack on most of our new fires," she said, but added some have eluded early containment.

Some rain is expected towards the weekend in southern B.C., providing short-term relief before an expected new high pressure ridge rebuilds next week.



Update from the Kelowna Capital News, July 23 at 9:00 a.m.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit the wildfire-affected Shelter Cove and Westside Road on Thursday afternoon.

Harper will join B.C. Premier Christy Clark on his visit, in her riding of West Kelowna.

"I am mostly concerned... that the forest fire season won't give us a break and that we're going to see more homes threatened, more people's livelihood threatened, more forest resources lost," said Clark on Wednesday (via Kelowna Capital News/The Canadian Press).

from the report:

"As of Wednesday, the province has spent more than $140 million battling the 1,300 wildfires that have broken out this season, and Clark said the province could spend another $300 to $400 million this year if the pace continues."


Current evacuations (as of 3:00 p.m. July 23)

The largest evacuation order now in place covers 70 homes near the Westside Road fire in West Kelowna.

A lodge is evacuated and 24 homes remain under alert near the 348-hectare Bolean Lake fire northwest of Falkland.

An evacuation order is in place near the 5,360-hectare Boulder Creek fire, which is 20 per cent contained northwest of Pemberton Meadows.

Sone cabins continue to be evacuated near the Dog Mountain fire on Sproat Lake near Port Alberni.

Evacuation alerts remain in effect for the Adams West wildfire southeast of Clearwater, the Coldstream Creek fire, and the Bear Creek fire (all in the Kamloops region.)

See the B.C. Wildfire Service's interactive map for more fire locations and details.



Update from the Vernon Morning Star, July 22 at 12:52 p.m.

The evacuation alert for 24 properties along Chase-Falkland Road remains in effect while the evacuation order continues for the Bolean Lake Lodge and the surrounding area.

The fire started on the south slope near Chase-Falkland Road Monday and was lightning-caused. Heavy winds quickly carried the flames and started a secondary fire which is burning closer to Bolean Lake, and is estimated to be 300 hectares in size. The initial lightning-caused fire near Chase-Falkland Road is estimated at 80 hectares.

The Morning Star also reported Tuesday that the Falkland fire was not contained, and 23 firefighters were on the ground while helicopters were bucketing water, preparing for "uncertain" activity.

Waterbomber in B.C. over Vernon

A bomber drops retardant on a fire off Tillicum Road in the BX Tuesday evening, July 21. (Image Credit: Dawn Mace Photography/Vernon Morning Star)


Campbell River

Update from the Campbell River Mirror, July 21 at 4:00 p.m.

"The two-hectare fire west of Campbell River is now 100 per cent contained, and Marg Drysdale of the Coastal Fire Centre (CFC) says the mop-up is progressing."



Update from the Kelowna Capital News, July 21 at 3:46 p.m.

The wildfire above Westside Road (Shelter Cove) has now reached 430 hectares, as of when it was mapped Tuesday afternoon.

from resident Karen Miller:

"It was shocking to see the wind cause the fire to flare up Monday night. It quickly got huge and moved (downhill) toward Westside Road and then jump to the north...

"As terrifying as a fire of that magnitude is, it is captivating to watch and there was a steady stream of traffic along Okanagan Centre Road West to watch the fire grow directly across the lake from Safe Harbour. I'd never seen trees candling like that before—exploding like firecrackers amidst the smoke and flames."

Fire near Vernon

Firefighters continue to tackle the Bolean Lake fire near Falkland. (Image Credit: Kelly Wright Photo/Vernon Morning Star)


Southeast B.C.

Update from the BC Government, July 21 at 11:50 a.m.

BC Wildfire Service crews have responded to 52 new fires since Monday, 50 of which we caused by lightning, according to a government press release.

This included a 25-hectare fire in the Boundary region, which has seen a total 23 new wildfires since Monday.

From the release:

The current fire danger rating is "high" in the Revelstoke, Boundary and Kaslo areas, "moderate" throughout the Kootenay Lake, Arrow and Boundary zones, and "moderate" to "low" in the majority of the Columbia, Invermere and Cranbrook fire zones.



Update from the Vernon Morning Star, July 21 at 10:17 a.m.

A wildfire has forced residents out of their home and the closure of Westside Road. It has also left some residents in the dark.


An evacuation order is in place for an area affecting about 70 homes along Westside Road as result of the flare-up Monday night of the Shelter Cove wildfire.


No properties are on an evacuation alert. Neither La Casa Resort or Lake Okanagan Resort are affected or under the evacuation order or alert.

Photo: Winds whipped up a fire on Westside Road near Shelter Cove Monday night, which forced evacuation orders. The fire was sparked by a lightning strike Sunday evening. (Image Credit: District Of Lake Country)

Vernon Wildfire


Campbell River

Update from the Campbell River Mirror, July 21 at 9:32 a.m.

"As of Tuesday morning, 12 additional firefighters are on the ground working to contain the newest wildfire in our area, located approximately 15 km west of Campbell River, bringing the contingent to 20 in total."

The newspaper quotes the Coastal Fire Centre saying the 1.5-hectare fire is 40 per cent contained.


Alberni Evacuation OrderAlberni Valley

An evacuation order has been issued for the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (Dog Mountain), "due to unstable slopes in areas affected by a wildfire."

Update from the Alberni Valley News, July 21 at 12:03 a.m.

"Properties within the evacuation area are those subject to moderate to high rock fall hazard as identified by this assessment."

(Photo shows a map of the ACRD, and its affected properties.)


The Dog Mountain fire – which at its height, reached an estimated span of 400 hectares – is 100 per cent contained. That was verified last week, by the Coastal Fire Centre.

But that doesn't mean the fire is 'out', reports the Alberni Valley News:

"I know they're monitoring that fire very carefully, largely because of the concern in the community."



Update from the Nelson Star, July 20 at 10:00 a.m.

The Southeast Fire Centre is reporting that lightning-caused forest fires have proliferated province-wide, with 232 of the 289 fires in their area caused by electric storms — over quadruple the number of human-caused fires, which are also up.

"Usually we have about a 50-50 split between lightning-caused and human-caused fires, but now it's a proportion that's not balanced," said information officer Fanny Bernard. She said crews have been busy.

"In 2014 we had 70 fires by July 20, 35 human-caused and 35 lightning-caused. This year we have 232 caused by lightning and 55 that were human-caused."

The Star also reports that B.C. has had 1,152 forest fire since April this year, compared to 640 over the same time in 2014. (Photo below: Mary Heaton)

Nelson Fire Photo

We have compiled a Storify below, with social media updates from the BC Wildfire Service and Black Press's newsrooms in affected communities: