Forest firefighting crews in B.C. are not likely to get much rest this week as lightning storms continue to spark hundreds of small fires and hot dry conditions blanket the province.
On Monday electrical storms in the Kootenays caused more than 100 new fires, most of which were one hectare or smaller in size. But lightning also sparked a blaze late Monday afternoon east of Cache Creek, which eventually spread to 60 hectares and forced the evacuation of three homes.
In many cases, the rain associated with the storms has slowed the spread of the fires, but with the forest floor dry beneath the surface layer, firefighters are working hard to put out the blazes, according to Jeannie Rucker, an information officer with the Kamloops fire centre.
"The fire situation is at this point a fairly busy one. We are picking up new fire starts every day. I think yesterday we did pick up approximately 31 new fires. So each of those fires in the hot weather is challenging our guards," said Rucker. Logging could be halted
Currently the fire danger rating for much of B.C. is high or extreme, except in the southeastern corner of the province, and that could lead to a halt of logging in many areas, putting both loggers and mill workers out of work.
In the Okanagan Valley, Tolko has been has already lost an estimated 2,000 truckloads of timber to the Terrace Mountain fire.
Tolko's woodlands manager Mark Tamas said logging in hot, dry forests can actually spark new fires and the company may have to shut down logging in other places at high risk of fire.
"It really is a factor of the weather. If we get a drying trend as predicted, there may be some further curtailments in harvesting operations, which could then lead to some mill curtailments," said Tamas. Urbans parks also concern
The tinder dry conditions are also raising fears of fires sweeping through urban parks, threatening nearby homes. Officials set up a blockade on the road between Vernon and Kelowna as the Terrace Mountain fire grew last week.
Retired forester Paul Diggle says parks such as Mount Doug in Saanich north of Victoria have been left in a natural state full of dead trees and branches, and a lightning storm could spark some massive fires.
"Victoria is not a high lightning strike area. If we had the number of lightning strikes that Kelowna has, then we would for sure have had some catastrophic fires. We had lightning last Saturday evening, but we had rain with it," said Diggle on Monday.
But Andrew Giles of the Saanich parks department says the dead and decomposing trees contribute to the forest ecosystem, and the Saanich fire department is confident it can respond quickly and extinguish and forest fires. Evacuation orders still in place
Meanwhile about 1,000 residents near the Terrace Mountain fire on the northwestern shore of Lake Okanagan are still waiting to return home, as that fire continues to burn across 4,500 hectares. Fire officials estimate it is still only 60 per cent contained and estimate it will be several more days before the evacuation orders in the region are lifted.
Closer to the coast, the Mount McLean Fire, four kilometres west of Lillooet, was still burning across 1,000 hectares and is zero per cent contained. Two properties remain under evacuation orders on the northeastern shore of Seton Lake, but fire officials say the blaze is not threatening the town of Lillooet itself [link to www.cbc.ca]