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Monday, September 27, 2021

More heat warnings possible for B.C. Interior as nearly 300 wildfires rage

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VANCOUVER — More dangerously hot weather could be on the way for the B.C. Interior as nearly 300 wildfires burn across the province.

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service dashboard, 283 fires were burning Saturday afternoon, a number that steadily increased during the day. Of those fires, 84 started just in the last 48 hours.

The Cariboo Regional District also issued three evacuation alerts due to wildfires near 100 Mile House Saturday afternoon. 

Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada based in Kamloops, says new fires are popping up all through the Interior.

“We’re surrounded from the north to the south and all the way into the U.S.,” Lundquist said, adding he’s concerned about the unusually early start to the fire season.

“Not only did we have a record dry spring here in the Interior and in many places, but we had that unprecedented heat, so we’re starting from a very difficult place for wildfires,” he said.

At least 64 per cent of the fires burning are believed to have been started by lightning strikes, exacerbated by the tinder-dry conditions.

“It’s so dry, in fact, that precipitation coming from the clouds is often evaporating before it hits the ground,” Lundquist said. “The whole province is just being battered by lightning and it’s just concerning.”

Hotter conditions are also in the forecast. Kamloops is expected to reach 37 degrees on Tuesday, and highs of 35 are predicted for Kelowna next week.

“We’re so close to maybe issuing another heat warning, we may have to do that in the next day or two,” Lundquist said. “It’s nothing like what we saw in June, but my concern is that it’s ongoing.”

WILDFIRE SMOKE CONCERNS

As the number of fires grows, so does concern about air quality.

Jim Mandeville, of FirstOnSite Restoration, and has been working on wildfire recovery for more than 10 years. Based in Toronto, Mandeville says he’s worked on recovery efforts in Slave Lake in 2011, Fort McMurray in 2016 and the B.C. Interior in 2017 and 2018. He’s planning to be back in B.C. on Monday to assist businesses with air purification.

“Next week, we’re just installing and maintaining and monitoring air purification equipment in businesses from Prince George all the way down to the U.S. border,” Mandeville said.

He says this kind of work has become “the new normal” since B.C.’s 2017 fire season.

“I’m worried every year now,” he said.

The smoke is currently contained to inland areas, but Lundquist said it is possible for the wind to push it toward the coast.

“If a system is moving toward us (in the Interior) and a cold front is moving towards us, sometimes the way that pressure patterns work is that it draws the air out from the Interior,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for to see if this smoke will make it to the coast.” 

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