British Columbia wildfire officials are closely watching the weather this week with the forecast calling for heavy rain, which could provide some much needed help in containing out-of-control blazes, but also lightning that could spark new burns.
As of Sunday evening, there were more than 90 wildfires burning across the province with the majority in the Peace region in the northeast, including three wildfires of note — Donnie Creek, Stoddart Creek and Red Creek — that pose a threat to properties already under evacuation orders and alerts.
The region is also under a rainfall warning with Environment Canada forecasting 50 to 75 mm of precipitation Monday through Tuesday for areas hardest hit by the fires.
B.C. Wildfire Service spokesperson Forrest Tower said if the rain comes it should help bring some of the fires in the region under control.
“If we do receive the amount that we are forecast, we’re looking at a timeline of a couple of days for those [smaller] fires — removing those as fires of note,” he said.
Cooler temperatures and a wind shift meant that firefighters were able to conduct a planned ignition operation to inhibit the spread of the Stoddart Creek blaze.
Additionally, the Cameron River wildfire, which was previously considered a wildfire of note, was downgraded in status to “being held” Sunday, with officials saying there is no longer a risk of it spreading.
Lightning a concern
However, there is also the risk that thunderstorms in B.C.’s Interior could lead to more fires.
Severe thunderstorm watches were issued Sunday for several regions including the Boundary and Kootenays region near the Alberta border where an out-of-control wildfire in Kootenay National Park grew in size to an estimated 190 hectares.
Three properties in B.C.’s Cariboo region were also ordered evacuated Sunday as the result of the Tzenzaicut fire which officials say was likely sparked by lighting or other natural causes.
Flood watches in place
And while the rain may be good news in the fight against wildfires it could also lead to catastrophic flooding, B.C.’s River Forecast Centre has warned.
Flood watches were issued Sunday for the Boundary, Kootenays and Columbia regions in the southeast, the Shuswap, Thompson, Bonaparte and Okanagan regions in the southern Interior and for the upper and middle Fraser River around Prince George and Quesnel.
Of particular concern is a flood watch in place for rivers and tributaries in the Peace where the forecast centre says conditions are similar to those seen in 2016 which caused catastrophic damage to roads and highways, forcing evacuations and cutting off several communities.