Weekend winds could spread B.C. wildfires to new areas, official warns

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Gusty winds forecast for the B.C. Interior this weekend could spread wildfires to new parts of the province, an official warns, as thousands of evacuees remain unable to return to their homes.

“Definitely toward the weekend some cold fronts are coming in and bringing some stronger wind patterns,” said Darron Campbell, director of the Emergency Operations Centre for the Cariboo Regional District

“Most of those weather patterns seem to be in the western part of the region, over in the Chilcotin and the north Cariboo, in areas that have not seen a lot of activity to date,” he said.

“We might be dealing with some new situations in some new areas.”

Campbell said officials are already preparing for any potential issues, including a prescribed burn near Williams Lake on Wednesday night.

“Certainly we have a window of opportunity over the next few days to prepare any new areas that might become a problem over the weekend,” Campbell.

BC Wildfire police officer

A police officer wears a mask to help deal with the smoke as wildfires continue to burn across the B.C. Interior. Over 300 RCMP officers from across B.C. and Alberta have already arrived to help with evacuation efforts. (Simon Hergott/CBC)

Risk of thunderstorms this afternoon

There is also a risk of afternoon thunderstorms and lightning once again today in the Interior of the province, CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe warns

“Areas north of Prince George should get a good soaking today but a strong, southwesterly flow and moderate instability will generate a risk of thunderstorms over the central Interior as well, including the fire-affected areas of the Cariboo,” said Wagstaffe.

The potential for moderate, gusty outflow winds is likely to outweigh the positive affects from local rainfall, she said.

On Friday and Saturday, the hot, dry conditions that fuelled the fires earlier this week are forecast to return, she noted, before the next, stronger cold front arrives Saturday night.

“Gusty winds ahead and behind the front could further complicate the fire situation in the central and southern interior,” she said.

Daytime high temperatures will drop by five to eight degrees across the Interior by the end of the weekend as the cooler air mass settles in, but there is no soaking rain in the weekend forecast, said Wagstaffe.

BC Wildfires equipment

Firefighting equipment rests on the ground while firefighters take a break near Williams Lake on Wednesday. (Simon Herggott/CBC)

Rec areas closed in Cariboo

In an effort to protect public safety, all recreation sites and trails in the Cariboo Fire Centre area have been closed.

The closure will remain in effect until further notice and any members of the public currently using recreation sites within the Cariboo Fire Centre are advised to leave.

Campfires have already been banned across the province and dozens of provincial parks in the fire zone have been closed.

B.C. Wildfire map July 13

On Wednesday, there were 183 wildfires burning across B.C., down from more than 220 earlier in the week. (CBC)

Progress made in recent days

Since last Friday, more than 14,000 people have been forced from their homes by wildfires, and thousands more have been warned to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice if the situation gets worse.

Since April, 78,000 hectares have been burned by 602 wildfires, officials said Wednesday.

The entire province remains under a state of emergency issued by the provincial government last week, and air quality advisories issued by Environment Canada remain in effect for larger areas of the Interior.

A break in the weather in recent days has allowed firefighters to make progress, cutting the number of wildfires from about 220 earlier this week to 183 on Wednesday.

But Al Richmond with the Cariboo Regional District says shifting winds did fan flames toward a rural area southwest Williams Lake on Wednesday night.

Just before 5 p.m. local time, the Cariboo district issued a new evacuation order for South of the Chilcotin River to Fletcher Lake.

The district has also published an interactive map of all 17 areas under evacuation orders or alerts.

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Weekend winds could spread B.C. wildfires to new areas, official warns

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