‘Any shift in the weather is going to have consequences’: B.C. wildfires could get worse, officials warn

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Shifting weather patterns are raising concerns in the B.C. Interior, where firefighters continue to battle hundreds of wildfires that have forced thousands to flee their homes.

Kevin Skrepnek, the province’s chief wildfire information officer, said all eyes will be on the weather in the coming days when wind and lightning could make conditions much worse.

“We have some concerning weather on the horizon tomorrow,” Skrepnek said, noting lightning could start new fires and the wind could spread them further afield.

“It was that combination on Friday that really brought this situation to a head,” he said.

“Any shift in the weather is going to have consequences.”

Cache Creek B.C. Wildfires 2017

Mary Symes is one of the evacuees from Cache Creek, B.C. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Over 14,000 people have already been forced from their homes and emergency centres in Prince George, Kelowna and Kamloops are filling up.

Meanwhile more communities — including at least 10,000 residents of Williams Lake — have been warned to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice if conditions change.

Smoke from more than 200 wildfires currently burning across the province is already hindering fire suppression efforts by reducing air quality and visibility across the Interior. The smoke has even crossed the Rockies, reaching as far as Edmonton.

July 11 Wildfire Map 2

Fires could create weather system

It’s not only external weather conditions officials have to be concerned about. CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said a very intense wildfire can actually create its own weather system called a pyrocumulus or fire cloud.

That’s what happened in Fort McMurray, Alta., during the devastating 2016 fire.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we are starting to see this situation with some of the fires across B.C.,” she said.

WATCH: How a wildfire can create its own weather system

The self-perpetuating cycle can make a fire difficult to contain, Wagstaffe said, noting that the smoke and heat of a fire rises up into the atmosphere, allowing oxygen to fill the space below and feed the fire.

The rising air cools and mixes with existing water vapour in the upper atmosphere to create thunderstorms and lightning, which can then ignite new fires.

“There is no rule of thumb for how big a fire has to be before this happens. If the plume of fire is large enough and there’s enough moisture in the air, then it will condense into fire clouds,” she said.

Current evacuation alerts and orders

Fort Mac donations

A woman picks up donations sent from residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., at an evacuation centre in Kamloops. (Pierreluc Gagnon/CBC)

Multiple communities continue to be under evacuation orders and alerts. Officials said the evacuation order on 100 Mile House — one of the largest municipalities affected by the fires — will remain for at least seven more days.

Williams Lake and the surrounding area continues to be under alert, with residents contending with alarmingly high levels of smoke.

Skrepnek said it’s important for residents to follow evacuation orders as they are announced.

“Just given the scale of the evacuations, we often see folks who choose to stay behind,” he said.

“They’re putting their own safety in jeopardy and they’re putting the safety of first responders in jeopardy too if that area does come under threat and we know that there are people who have stayed behind.”

For the latest evacuation alerts and orders, visit Emergency Info BC.

  • 100 Mile House: An evacuation order for the community was issued Sunday, and will remain in effect for at least another week. The surrounding northern fringe areas and Forest Grove are under evacuation alert as is a large swath to the southwest along Highway 97.
  • Cache Creek: The village of Cache Creek and surrounding properties have been ordered evacuated. Residents are to go to the McArthur Island Sports Lounge in Kamloops. Other areas to the north, east and west are under evacuation alert.
  • Princeton: 350 homes in the Highway 5A area between Cedar Creek Road and Dry Lake have been ordered evacuated. All homes north of Princeton along Highway 5A north to Cedar Creek Road and along Princeton Summerland Road to Shinish Creek Road are under evacuation alert.
  • Little Fort: Properties west and south of Lemieux Creek are under evacuation alert after a previous evacuation order was rescinded. Several properties to the east are also under evacuation alert. North of nearby Dunn Lake, several properties on Dunn Lake Road and Windpass Road have been ordered evacuated.
  • Clearwater: Several properties on Dunn Lake Road, Bradshaw Road and McCarthy Creek Road have been ordered evacuated. Several other properties in the District of Clearwater and TNRD Electoral Area A were also on evacuation alert.
  • Williams Lake: The Moore Mountain, Miocene, Wildwood, Fox Mountain, Soda Creek and Lexington Subdivision north of 150 Mile House, have been ordered evacuated. The remainder of the city is under an evacuation alert as is the nearby area of South Lakeside.
  • 150 Mile House: The community and surrounding areas have been ordered evacuated.
  • Alexis Creek: An area north of Highway 20 between Alexis Creek and the Fraser River has been ordered evacuated. That order was later expanded to reach areas as far west as Chilcotin Lake and almost as far north as Quesnel.
  • Loon Lake: The community and surrounding properties are under an evacuation alert.
  • Quesnel: Properties near Dragon Mountain are under an evacuation alert.
  • Naltesby Lake: An area surrounding the lake, southwest of Prince George, is under evacuation alert.
  • Fort Fraser: An area north of the community between Fraser Lake and the Stuart River is under evacuation alert.
  • Kleena Kleene: An evacuation order was issued for the community and surrounding areas.
  • Bella Coola: A remote fire 52 kilometres east of the community, which is in the Coastal Fire Centre, has caused the evacuation of five homes.
  • Tatelkuz Lake: An evacuation alert is in effect for the area near this lake south of Fort Fraser.
  • Big Bend Creek: An evacuation alert is in effect for this area west of Finger-Tatuk Provincial Park.

Highway closures

Cache Creek B.C. Wildfire 2017

A roadblock prevents people from going into Cache Creek. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

For the latest road closures and conditions, visit DriveBC.

  • Highway 1: Closed from Ashcroft to Cache Creek; and both directions east and west out of Cache Creek; and in the westbound lane to Savona.
  • Highway 5A: Closed in both directions at junction with Highway 3 in Princeton and north of Princeton at Allison Lake Provincial Park.
  • Highway 20: Closed to westbound traffic at the Chilcotin Bridge, 25 km west of Williams Lake.
  • Highway 24: Closed to westbound traffic heading to 100 Mile House from the junction with Horse Lake Road.
  • Highway 97: Closed from junction of Highway 1 in Cache Creek to Clinton, and at the Canim Hendrix intersection to the Timothy Lake Road junction. Open to northbound traffic from Williams Lake and closed to southbound traffic from 15 kilometres south of Quesnel.
  • Highway 99: Closed from Hat Creek Junction to Highway 97.
  • Likely Road: Closed from 150 Mile House to junction with Horsefly Road.

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‘Any shift in the weather is going to have consequences’: B.C. wildfires could get worse, officials warn

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