B.C. extending state of emergency amid ongoing wildfire battle

CBC News

Winds in northeastern B.C. expected to increase fire activity, Environment Canada, wildfire service say

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Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma says British Columbia is extending a state of emergency due to the ongoing wildfires that have devastated parts of the province.

Ma announced the two-week extension at a provincial update on drought and wildfires on Thursday.

The state of emergency, which was initially declared on Aug. 18, gives the province extended powers to respond to disasters such wildfires.

The announcement comes despite a general improvement in wildfire conditions in southern parts of B.C. — although firefighters in the northeast say they are expecting strong winds to exacerbate fires burning near municipalities like Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Chetwynd and Dawson Creek.

donnie-creek-wildfire-aerial-view-firefighter-plane

A firefighter observes the Donnie Creek wildfire from a plane in an undated photograph. The largest wildfire ever recorded in B.C. has been burning since May 12 and was estimated to be 5,831 square kilometres in size on Aug. 28. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement about widespread gusty wind Thursday night into Saturday.

It says westerly or southwesterly winds of 40 km/h gusting to 60 km/h will develop late Thursday over southeastern Yukon and move into northeastern B.C. Friday morning.

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"These winds, in combination with ongoing severe drought and recent heat will lead to an increase in wildfire activity across the landscape," said the statement.

SEE ALSO: Number of homes destroyed or damaged by wildfire in B.C.'s Okanagan rises to 189

Environment Canada said the windy conditions could also worsen air quality due to wildfire smoke and create hazards such as broken and falling tree branches.

The B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) also issued a statement about the expected wind in the northeast, asking residents in the region to stay alert to changes the gusts could cause.

"Wildfires are dynamic and conditions may change rapidly," it said.

Northwest campfire ban

There are currently 422 active wildfires burning in the province, according to the BCWS, an increase of about 50 from a week ago due to unstable weather that has resulted in lightning strikes in several regions.

Close to 200 of the fires are burning out of control, while 12 are considered wildfires of note, meaning they are particularly visible or threatening to nearby communities.

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Effective Thursday at noon, all campfires will be prohibited in B.C.'s Northwest Fire Centre due to dry and hot conditions.

Rain tempers flames in south

Meanwhile, in B.C.'s southern Interior, widespread rain in the forecast Thursday is expected to aid firefighters pushing back against a number of major wildfires.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District says while cooler weather brought winds that may increase fire behaviour at the Bush Creek East blaze near Chase, the rain is "creating conditions for firefighters to increase their attack" on the fire now measuring 431 square kilometres.

Forecasts call for showers to continue until at least noon for communities including Kelowna, Lytton and Salmon Arm, all adjacent to wildfires that have forced evacuation orders.

Officials in both the Thompson-Nicola and Fraser Valley regional districts downgraded a number of evacuation orders linked to the Kookipi Creek wildfire to alerts Wednesday, with the BCWS saying some parts of the fire received up to 16 millimetres of rain.

Evacuation orders were also downgraded to alerts in the Bear Creek Road area of West Kelowna in relation to the McDougall Creek fire, as well as in Turtle Valley in the Thompson-Nicola region close to the Bush Creek East blaze.

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Evacuation alerts have been cancelled in parts of the Westbank First Nation and the Boucherie Industrial Area in the Central Okanagan.

This article was originally published by CBC News with some files from The Canadian Press.

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