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Air quality advisories cover much of the interior, including the Okanagan region where the worst fires are burning, as well as parts of the lower mainland and Vancouver Island.

Smoke-filled air in B.C. as fires threaten homes

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, August 23, 2015, 2:06 PM - B.C.'s ongoing wildfire emergency has left the skies filled with smoke in the province's interior.

Air quality advisories cover much of the interior, including the Okanagan region where the worst fires are burning, as well as parts of the lower mainland and Vancouver Island.

The advisories were issued after the wind began funnelling in smoke from the fires in Washington State, also burning out of control.

"Southerly winds have been widely spreading heavy plumes of smoke northwards from the large wildfires burning in Washington state, resulting in high concentrations of fine particulates and poor air quality," Environment Canada says. "While this episode is expected to persist until a major shift in wind patterns and weather conditions, smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change."

In particular, smoke from the Stickpin fire in Washington has drifted into Canada. The blaze is an estimated 19,240 hectares and is 15 per cent contained as of Sunday. Over 30 B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters and three officers are being sent over to help fight the Stickpin fire, which is about 4.5 km south of the border.

Smoke from the fire has difted into Grand Forks and Christina Lake. However, no homes have been evacuated as of yet. The town of Oliver has also seen smoke from the Washington fire.

Meanwhile, in B.C. progress has been made against the massive wildfires threatening homes in the province.

Crews are working on containing two wildfires in the Okanagan Valley, while a third, massive fire continues to burn out of control in the same region.

The hardest fight remains in the Rock Creek area, where a wildfire has burned more than 4,500 hectares and torched several homes and structures. It remains at 50 per cent contained as of Saturday afternoon.

Located in B.C.'s southern Interior, the blaze started on Aug. 13 and investigators say it was likely caused by humans. Officials are looking for a video that reportedly shows how the massive fire was sparked by a flicked cigarette, British Columbia Forests Minister Steve Thomson told CBC.

"We have no confirmation of (the video) at this time, but the investigation is ongoing and I would encourage anyone who has video to share it with the local RCMP or with our wildfire service," Thomson said.

An evacuation alert is in effect for the area, as well as for people living in the area of the community of Oliver. That alert was expanded Saturday to include 183 homes, according to CBC News

The major fire in that area, known as the Testalinden Creek fire, has seen the most progress. As of Saturday night, it was listed as 60 per cent contained.

Still, firefighters have not had an easy time, and dry and hot weather hasn't been the only challenge.

More than 1,600 fires have burned in the B.C. interior this season, scorching almost 300,000 hectares of land. The province has seen high temperatures and very little rainfall this summer, making flame-ups more likely.

As for quenching rains, there's little to be had this week, and winds will actually make fire fighters' job harder.

SOURCES: B.C. Wildfire Service | CBC News

-- With files from Leeanna McLean

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