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Hot, windy weather forecast could present challenges for wildfire fighting efforts

More than 220 wildfires are currently burning in BC, according to the BC Wildfire Service. Estimates put the total area affected at approximately 23,600 hectares throughout the Cariboo and Northern Interior.

What the province needs is a prolonged rainy spell but the weather forecast isn’t cooperating. The Service is expecting crews to face hot, dry and windy conditions for at least the next week.

The Gustafson fire near 100 Mile is now about 3,200 hectares and its 0% contained. Water bombers are in the area and 107 firefighters are on scene. The fires near 150 Mile and Wildwood each cover about 2,000 hectares.

The largest fire is near Ashcroft, estimated at 4,400 hectares. It’s been described as aggressively active and has prompted closures of Highway 97 as well as evacuations. It is also 0% contained, as per the BC Wildfire Service.

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Near Quesnel, the Dragon Mountain fire (now being called the Green Mountain fire), is about 1,500 hectares and an evacuation alert has been issued for several properties in the area.

Smoke has been making assessing the size of some fires difficult.

“It is causing visibility issues for aircraft and on the ground, but the smoke also has a bit of a calming effect,” says Kevin Skrepnek, Chief Fire Information Officer. “It traps moisture closer to the ground, so the humidity is a little higher; it also, of course, shades the fires from the heat of the Sun. A lot of that smoke has cleared, but that wind is going to be challenging.”

Skrepnek stresses that the service’s top priorities continue to be safeguarding people.

About 1,000 BC firefighters have been deployed, along with hundreds of contract firefighters. Close to 300 additional personnel, including firefighters and emergency management, are expected to arrive in BC as early as tomorrow.

The federal government is also prepared to send in military support, but only if called on by the province. Airforce assets, including helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, are in a state of readiness.

“The helicopters that will go in to Kelowna will be on standby and ready to support provincial efforts whatever that ask may be,” says Chris Duffy, executive director of Emergency Management BC. It would be similar for the other fixed-wing aircraft or the larger helicopters that should be in in the next few days.”

Three Griffon helicopters have already arrived in Kelowna.

More than 7,000 people have been evacuated so far but there do not appear to have been any injuries.

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“There are 1,800 evacuees registered in Williams Lake and are being directed to Prince George; about 1200 people registered at 100 Mile House, and that number continues to be fluid,” Duffy says.

A provincial emergency centre has been activated in Victoria and local emergency reception centres are active in both Kamloops and Prince George.

The BC Wildfire Service estimates that it has spent about $46 million so far this fire season. The budget for the year is $53 million but Skrepnek says they will have access to more as needed, a situation that has occurred before.

Ironically, Skrepnek says the province’s wildfire season began quietly and then took off late this week after a prolonged dry spell. Of the 552 wildfires reported so far this year, more than 220 are currently active. In the Prince George Fire Centre, there are 75 active fires. None are considered to pose a significant risk to people or property.

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