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Strong gusts forecast in B.C. and wind set to change direction, creating new challenges for wildfire crews

Strong gusts forecast in B.C. and wind set to change direction, creating new challenges for wildfire crews-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Fire crews tackle the Nk’Mip Creek fire near Osoyoos, B.C., on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Wind speed and direction have dramatically affected the wildfire situation in B.C. over the past two days, and Thursday’s forecast shows it will continue to play a major role in fire behaviour. 

B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires grow, forcing more evacuations

The B.C. Wildfire Service has issued a wind advisory for the province’s Interior, southern Interior and southeast regions that extends to Thursday night.

“Wind activity may significantly impact fire growth in these regions,” the advisory says. “The rate of fire spread will likely increase, and the direction of fire growth may change quickly on some wildfires.”

Winds are expected to shift direction Thursday, and gusts could reach up to 40 km/h in parts of the southern Interior and 50-70 km/h in the southeast. This would create potentially dangerous situations for firefighting as the heads of the fires shift and wind speeds cause fires to spread and fuel to become even drier.

The wind will likely calm on Friday, but could return over the weekend.

Nearly 3,400 square kilometres of land have already been burned by wildfire since April 1.

Wind conditions feeding fires

Fire ecologist Robert Gray said wind essentially feeds wildfires, which means Thursday will be a challenging day for firefighters.

“The fuels are already dry,” he said. “So we will see quite significant spread rates, long range spotting and very, very dangerous conditions.”

Though fires tend to burn uphill, Gray said wind could influence the fire to move downhill.

Fires in Oliver BC-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A picture of the Nk’Mip Creek wildfire as seen from Oliver, B.C. (Submitted by James Moore)

The “heat dome” that blanketed much of Western Canada in late June and early July, raising temperatures to record levels, prompted the start of the wildfire season about a month early, Gray said.

“We’re going to see things change year after year after year, trending to the worse situation,” he said.

“We’re also going to see more of these exceptional events like what we saw in July with the heat dome and those trigger tipping points that occur sooner down the line. We’re going to see things constantly changing and, unfortunately, changing for the worse.”

Wildfire in BC-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Fires could change direction with the wind on Thursday. The Mount Hunter wildfire, pictured, is currently estimated to be four hectares (0.04 square kilometres) in size and is located approximately 20 kilometres east of Golden, B.C. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter)

Thousands on evacuation order

As of Thursday morning, more than 4,300 properties in B.C. have been ordered to evacuate, while about 17,700 more have been told to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.

On Wednesday afternoon, residents of 356 properties in the central Kootenay communities of Edgewood and Needles were told to leave immediately because of the growing Michaud Creek wildfire, which was last estimated at 26.7 square kilometres.

Fire in Renata BC-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Several fires near the community of Renata, northwest of Castlegar, B.C., have merged into one fire, covering a total of around 2.1 square kilometres. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter)

The Young Lake fire, located to the southeast of 70 Mile House, led to the evacuation of another 103 properties in the Bonaparte Plateau area of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Earlier in the day, about 168 properties in the Kootenay communities of Apple Grove and Fauquier were ordered to evacuate due to the 32-square kilometre Octopus Creek wildfire.

“The fires along Columbia River, around Edgewood, Apple Grove, they’ve been spreading in all different directions,” Gray said.

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