As more extreme heat approaches, B.C. health minister says ‘all hands on deck’ this time


Another heat wave will move through B.C. this week, with temperatures reaching the high 30s in parts of the province.

Carli Pierrot, who works for the Skeetchetsn Indian Band, watches firefighters working to control part of the Sparks Lake wildfire complex burning on Skeetchetsn territory, near Kamloops, B.C., on July 14, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A heat wave expected to sweep through B.C.’s south coast this week will make its way into the province’s Interior later this week, creating challenges for wildfire suppression efforts. 

Temperatures are expected to climb to 37 C in Kamloops on Saturday, which has three large fires to the west, and the notorious White Rock Lake fire burning east of the city.

Overnight lows in the southern Interior will go down to near or above 18 C. 

A weather statement is in effect for parts of B.C., but Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist said he wouldn’t be surprised if the heat warning for the Lower Mainland was extended to the Interior in coming days.

Those high temperatures will rapidly dry fuels that are already tinder dry as a result of ongoing drought conditions. That in turn could lead to an increase in wildfire behaviour. 

“It’s not going to be good news for the wildfire [fighters],” Lundquist said. 

A couple rests on a bench in Riverside Park as smoke from wildfires burning in the vicinity of Kamloops, B.C., creates a hazy atmosphere on July 16, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Smoke has blanketed most of B.C.’s central and southern Interior on and off for weeks. High pressure from the heat wave will trap smoke in some areas.

“It’s only going to get worse over the next few days,” Lundquist said. 

An air quality statement has been issued for the next 24 to 48 hours.

As temperatures cool smoke could dissipate, but depending on any new fire starts or increased fire activity from the heat wave, it may linger into next week.

Wind, thunderstorms follow heat wave

On Sunday and Monday, temperatures will cool, which Lundquist is equally concerned about in terms of wildfires in the province. He’s forecasting thunderstorms and wind gusts of up to 70 km/h.

“I don’t like to hear about lightning in the forecast, or thunderstorms,” he said.

There is a possibility of dry lightning, but Lundquist expects showers to accompany lightning strikes.

B.C. Wildfire Service spokesperson Sarah Hall said crew safety is a top priority when changes in weather are forecast, including ensuring firefighters have frequent breaks, access to water and shade, and implementing first aid plans for heat exhaustion. 

She said personnel will continue to assess weather and fire behaviour in coming days.

As of Wednesday morning, there are approximately 266 wildfires burning in the province, 31 of which are considered of note. 

The largest fire continues to be the Sparks Lake wildfire, northwest of Kamloops, which is now 698 square kilometres in size.

Hall said the White Rock Lake fire, however, is the top priority. While fire activity has increased, the fire hasn’t grown outside existing control lines over the last 24 hours.

More than 3,600 personnel are involved in firefighting operations. 

Since April 1, 1,454 fires have scorched 6,560 square kilometres of land. 

As of Tuesday night a total of 5,392 properties in B.C. have been ordered to evacuate due to nearby wildfire risk. A further 30,899 properties are on evacuation alert, and must be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately. 

Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

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