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The west's wildfire emergency continues into the weekend, with thousands of evacuations, smoke-filled air and throngs of firefighters trying to keep the flames at bay.

Foreign firefighters on the way to help combat wildfires

Digital writers

Saturday, July 11, 2015, 7:25 AM - The west's wildfire emergency continues into the weekend, with thousands of evacuations, smoke-filled air and throngs of firefighters trying to keep the flames at bay.

Officials have asked for international assistance with more than 60 firefighters arriving from Mexico and more getting ready in Australia and New Zealand.

In B.C., the wildfire situation has forced the government to exceed the budget allocated to dealing with the situation for the fourth time in the last five years.

The smoke from the western Canada fires has traveled south into the U.S. and was captured by the U.S. National Weather Service. In an animation posted on their Facebook account, a smoke plume is circulating over Montana.


Below is the animation from 630am to 9am mdt of the circulations in the smoke plume over Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

Posted by US National Weather Service Glasgow Montana on Friday, July 10, 2015

Here's the impact so far.

Saskatchewan: Fires threaten La Ronge

Thousands of people in Saskatchewan are facing more time out of their homes as firefighters struggle to contain the province's worst wildfire emergency in recent memory.

Continued lack of significant rainfall has combined with high temperatures to fuel the fires.

"We need a lot of rain to help with the effort," Prince Albert fire captain Lloyd Zwack told CBC News. "I would be tremendously surprised if La Ronge gets out of this unscathed."

More than 7,000 residents in Saskatchewan have received emergency support while approximately 13,000 people have been forced to leave their homes according to officials on Saturday. Emergency shelter has been provided by The Canadian Red Cross, as well as emergency services for people who may be staying with friends or family.

Emergency Management director Duane McKay told The Canadian Press some evacuees have been pressuring community leaders on when they'll be allowed back to their homes. 

"Shania", North America's largest helicopter fighting fires near La Ronge yesterday.

Posted by Government of Saskatchewan on Friday, July 10, 2015

There are now more than 1,300 people, from firefighters to around 500 Canadian Forces members, who are on the front lines trying to contain the blaze. On Friday, another 100 reservists set out for the wildfire zone to help, after undergoing wildfire training for a week.

The smoke from the fires has blown from Western Canada all the way to the Atlantic and parts of the United States, at one point covering the majority of the Prairie provinces.

"This area of smoke currently lies over the Meadow Lake and La Ronge areas and will spread southward into the Northern Grainbelt later today," Environment Canada said Friday. "This dense smoke will persist at least through Saturday. The northernmost areas of Saskatchewan will have generally less smoke. However, locally smoky conditions will occur due to isolated forest fires."

Heavy rain moving into the province could bring relief to some of the affected areas, but stormy weather brings its own challenges.

"The ample amounts of moisture this air mass is bringing to the province will provide heavy downpours which will offer some relief to the effort but of course lightning is also a concern," said Kelly Sonnenburg, meteorologist at The Weather network. "The ground is really dry in some of these affected areas. If these places get a heavy downpour, it could lead to localized flooding." 

By the numbers:

  • More than 13,000 total evacuees
  • 60 communities under full or partial evacuation
  • 119 active fires in the province. 
  • 604 wildfires so far this season compared to 220 at the same point in 2014.
  • 973,763 hectares burned so far this season, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre


An evacuation of part of Jasper National park was ordered Thursday due to a fire that has since reached an area of 5,000 hectares. 

The fire was started by lightning, according to park officials. About 82 visitors and staff members were forced to leave the parks, 52 of which were airlifted to safety by helicopter.

Assistance from Mexico arrived with more than 60 firefighters arriving from Jalisco . 

No one has been injured and no facilities in the National Park have been affected.

According to officials, no infrastructure is at risk other than the nearby Maligne Road.

The Alberta government said 99 fires were burning in the province Friday, 29 of which were out of control. Almost 1,000 personnel are in the field trying to push back the flames. Firefights from Mexico arrived in Alberta on Thursday ready to assist their Canadian counterparts.

British Columbia

This season has been an expensive one for B.C. so far, with the province officially crossing the hundred million mark in terms of firefighting costs.

Fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told the Canadian Press around $105 million has been spent so far, much more than the $63 million allotted in the provincial budget. In fact, in the last five years the wildfire budget has been exceeded with the exception of the 2011/2012 period.

B.C.'s wildfires, while threatening some communities, have not resulted in the same kind of widespread evacuations as in Saskatchewan, but the majority of the population has felt their effects, in the form of wildfire smoke widespread enough to drive down air quality.

For yet another day, air quality advisories stretch from eastern Vancouver Island all the way through the southern interior, covering by far the majority of the province's population. 

Unlike on the Prairies, however, the weather will bring some relief this weekend, in the form of cooling temperatures and a certain amount of steady rainfall.

A system beginning to affect the province won't do much for the lower mainland, with only around 2-3 mm expected, but it will drop 20-40 mm on the central and north coasts, and a good 15 mm in the southern Interior.

Temperatures are on the wane also, already in the low 20s for Vancouver and falling to the low-to-mid 20s in the Interior. 

Both the cooldown and the rain will be a boon not only for firefighters, but residents who have been coping with elevated temperatures and well-below seasonal rainfall for weeks.

Water restrictions, including lawn watering bans, have been in effect for many communities in the province for some time, and a province-wide fire ban remains in effect.

More than 200 wildfires are burning in B.C. There have been upward of 1000 wildfires to date, burning more than 260,000 hectares in 2015 so far.

The science of snow and wildfires

As mentioned above, the first snowfall was mentioned as something that may end up being a fire-ending event. But how would snow suppress the flames? Meteorologist Scott Sutherland explains:

  • Snow accumulations around the wildfires will make it very difficult for the fires to spread.
  • Meanwhile, any snow that falls directly over the areas burning will end up suppressing the fires and possibly even putting them out completely. First, clouds from the snowstorm would block sunlight, lowering the temperature closer to the ground. Beneath the clouds, the falling snow would first sublimate into the dry air above the fire, and then melt into rain as the humidity rises, until eventually a rain/snow mix would be falling directly onto the flames.
  • This combination of cooling, the rise in humidity from sublimation and evaporation, and the direct snow/rain falling on the ground at the site of the flames will suppress the fire, possibly put it out completely. At the very least, it will result in a wildfire that is easier for wildfire management crews to control and eventually extinguish.

-- With files from Leeanna McLean

SOURCE: CBC Saskatchewan | Government of Saskatchewan | Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre | CBC British Columbia | B.C. Wildfire Management Branch | CBC Edmonton

WATCH BELOW: What are the ingredients of a major wildfire?

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