The Thomas Creek Fire, 1.5 km east of Skaha Lake, is shown near Okanagan Falls, B.C. in this recent photo. A new wildfire in British Columbia has forced the evacuation of nearly 80 properties, while residents of hundreds more homes around the south Okanagan lakeside community of Okanagan Falls have been ordered to be ready to go on short notice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Penticton Herald-Mark Brett

New B.C. wildfire forces evacuations, some heat warnings resume in parts of B.C.

New B.C. wildfire forces evacuations, some heat warnings resume in parts of B.C.

There are many weeks to go in British Columbia’s fire season and there’s already been double the average number of blazes and three times the area burned, says a spokeswoman for the province’s wildfire service.

Taylor Colman said the province has seen 987 wildfires this year with more than 1,540 square kilometres of land charred, and of that about 1,500 square kilometres is still burning.

“It’s significantly more than what we consider the average,” Colman said in an interview Monday.

The province would have seen about 490 fires on an average at this time of the year with about 500 square kilometres burned, she said.

“You know, it’s only July 12,” Coleman noted.

There are more than 300 wildfires currently burning in the province with 24 of them ranked as especially threatening or visible.

These include the newly sparked Okanagan Falls blaze, the growing fire that began June 30 and destroyed the village of Lytton and another north of Kamloops that has scorched 402 square kilometres of bush in just two weeks.

The Okanagan Falls fire has forced the evacuation of nearly 80 properties, while residents of hundreds of other homes around the lakeside community have been ordered to be ready to go on short notice.

The BC Wildfire Service said flames in the hills on the southeast side of Skaha Lake, east of Okanagan Falls, were reported Sunday and it charred an estimated five square kilometres of the rural area within hours.

Eight firefighters, two helicopters and numerous pieces of heavy equipment were at the scene before dusk and worked through the night, it said.

Wildfire risk across most of B.C. is ranked high or extreme and Environment Canada has issued another round of heat warnings for parts of the central and southern Interior, including the region where crews are still battling the 88-square-kilometre fire that levelled Lytton.

Heat warnings issued Sunday by the weather office call for above seasonal daytime temperatures of 33 C to 38 C, and only moderately cooler conditions overnight.

“Heat warnings are issued when very high temperature or humidity conditions are expected to pose an elevated risk of heat illnesses, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion,” said the Environment Canada warning.

The warnings are expected to remain in effect until Wednesday.

Colman said the warnings are “concerning” for their fight against the fires.

“We still have quite a few weeks in wildfire season, and what we consider the peak of wildfire season, so we still have a long way to go.”

The provincial government has also warned that large parts of B.C. are now facing drought conditions.

There is water scarcity and low streamflows on Vancouver Island, in the central Interior and in southern British Columbia due to low spring rainfall amounts and record high temperatures in June and early July.

The Salmon River watershed that drains into Shuswap Lake andeast Vancouver Island are experiencing a Level 4 drought, on the scale that goes from zero to five.

It means in those areas, significant, adverse impacts on fish are very likely, and maximum water conservation for all water users and licensees is being urged, the government said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

B.C. Wildfires 2021