Heat wave challenges firefighters in British Columbia as new wildfires prompt evacuations

Northeastern British Columbia continues to see large wildfires spiral out of control as unusually warm weather challenges firefighters.

Dozens of people stayed out of their homes on Sunday around Fort St. John, B.C., due to evacuation orders and alerts associated with the Red Creek Fire, which has now been burning for more than a week.

A recently discovered fire called the Stoddart Creek Fire, just north of Red Creek, has prompted a door-to-door evacuation operation due to the safety risks associated with this fire.

The Stoddart Creek Wildfire was discovered around 3:00 p.m. PT Saturday and is burning over an area of ​​12.31 square kilometers. The Peace River Regional District says 136 homes were placed under evacuation orders Sunday afternoon.

The wildfires come as a heat wave continues across the province, with little respite overnight for BC Wildfire Service emergency responders.

“It’s May so it seems early, but we’re seeing July conditions there,” said Hannah Swift, a fire information officer.

Daytime temperatures are expected to be 10°C to 15°C above the seasonal average until at least Tuesday, according to Environment Canada.

On Sunday afternoon, the Stoddart Creek Fire covers an area of ​​12.31 square kilometers, nearly three times the size of Stanley Park. (British Columbia Wildfire Service)

Hot conditions add to extreme drought in the Peace region of northeastern British Columbia, where the biggest fires are burning. Additional firefighting resources are being devoted to what is called the North Peace Fire Complex, which is made up of four large fires.

Swift says high spring temperatures — which have already accelerated snowmelt across much of the province — mean the Peace region has had little time to recover from the drought, which began last fall.

“Coming out of winter and into spring, we had the snowmelt and went straight back into summer [conditions]”, she said. “We see very high temperatures, very low relative humidities very early in the day. So this burn window – where we see sort of peak fire behavior – is getting longer and longer. »

Swift says, however, crews are continuing to make good progress on the Boundary Lake fire on the B.C.-Alberta border, after conducting planned burns to limit fire growth. Three houses were destroyed by fire last week.

Fire crews march towards a blaze with gear in hand.
Shown here are crews conducting a planned lighting operation, to limit fire growth, along the boundaries of the Boundary Lake Fire on BC-Alta. border on May 13. (Adam Buchanan/BC Forest Fire Service)

As of Sunday afternoon, 56 fires were burning in British Columbia and 15 of them are considered out of control.

An evacuation alert means that residents should prepare to evacuate their homes, possibly with little or no notice. An evacuation order means that a resident must leave immediately.

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The Peace River Regional District has also issued evacuation orders for a “remote area” north of Fort St. John due to the Donnie Creek and Tommy Lake fires. The Donnie Creek wildfire covers an area of ​​263 square kilometers.

In a statement, the district says the area is “used primarily by the logging and oil and gas industry,” with BC’s energy regulator saying some fossil fuel operations have already been halted due to fire activity.

Smoke rises from a forest fire in a wooded area, with rivers visible.
The planned ignition operation at the Boundary Lake Fire covered an area of ​​150 hectares (1.5 km2), with the fire expected to increase slightly in size. On Sunday afternoon, it covers an area of ​​61.71 square kilometers. (Adam Buchanan/BC Forest Fire Service)

“Most of the fires we see in this area are suspected [to be] of human origin,” Swift said.

“We really ask the public to help us in this regard, to ensure that they do their best when they recreate themselves,” she continued. “So that we can focus on the fires we already have and make progress on those, because the new ones will only divert our resources even further.”

While many of B.C.’s most concerning fires are burning far from the coast, a much smaller blaze was reported around 9 p.m. in Farrer Cove, adjacent to Belcarra Regional Park in Greater Vancouver.

Jay Sharpe of the Sasamat Volunteer Fire Department said the blaze was brought under control after firefighters worked overnight, adding it was likely caused by a power line malfunction and the incident showed the need for increased vigilance in the heat.

A Category 2 and Category 3 fire ban – which includes open fires that burn piled material, as well as the burning of thatch or grass and fireworks – is in place across the center interior and northern British Columbia.

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