Lightning storms that swept across British Columbia are being blamed by the Wildfire Service for many of the blazes that started this week across the province including one that threatened Kootenay Park Lodge on Wednesday.
Spokesman Ryan Turcot said more than 300 wildfires have started since Tuesday, with dozens recorded in the last few days in the Cariboo region, the area hard hit by last year’s record-breaking fire season.
Unstable weather began Saturday but there were hundreds of lightning strikes Tuesday, said Turcot. Storms were expected to continue through the week.
The lodge in Kootenay National Park, near the Alberta boundary, was one of two backcountry resorts that were evacuated in southern B.C. because of fires. The lodge in Cathedral Provincial Park, south of Princeton, was also evacuated.
Flames from a 15-square-kilometre fire crept closer to the lodge in the provincial park and could cut into the single road leading to it, said Cameron Baughen, the emergency operations spokesman with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
“There are people who hike through that area, the hiking trails are magnificent, some of the best in our area, so people could be as far as a day or two away from the lodge and not be aware that there are changing conditions,” he said.
Flames and heavy smoke prompted the closure of Highway 93 between Radium and the Alberta boundary through Kootenay National Park because of two wildfires that were burning in the Vermilion Valley, just off the road.
“Once they started, they were very active, fast moving and aggressive right from the early onset,” said Jed Cochrane, a Parks Canada fire and vegetation specialist who’s the incident commander on the fires. “We did have helicopters and crews on scene almost immediately after they started.”
The two fires, which were estimated to be between 100 and 200 hectares each in size, were also close to the lodge, he said. The lodge and a second building, the Parks Canada facilities at Kootenay Crossing, were being protected with sprinklers, Cochrane said.
The two fires were close to each other in a mature forest, which Cochrane estimated hasn’t seen fire for about 100 years.
“There is a fairly substantial buildup of forest fuels,” he said. There were two previous wildfire burns nearby, which he said could serve as fire breaks.
Cochrane said five attack crews and six to seven helicopters were working on a total of five fires in Kootenay and Banff national parks. The other three fires were contained, he said.
Smoke was heavy in the area and a fire ban is in effect in Kootenay National Park. Trails and other areas in the park were closed.
Wildfire activity prompted an evacuation order late Wednesday about 100 kilometres east of Kitimat. The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako said the order covers the east end of Nadina Lake, including the Nadina Lake Lodge and recreation site.
Increased wildfire activity also led to evacuation alerts for separate wildfires burning east and west of Quesnel in central B.C., while an evacuation alert was expanded to cover nearly 900 properties in the Keremeos and Cawston areas.
The wildfire service listed 10 fires of note burning across five of B.C.’s six fire centres and Turcot urged extreme caution.
“We are dealing with a lot of new lightning-driven activity. The last thing we need right now is human-caused fires to divert critical resources away from the fires we are responding to right now,” he said.
Cooler weather and some rain is in the forecast for the upcoming long weekend, but Turcot called the shift a double-edged sword.
“When you get instability, you also get a little bit more wind, and wind can drive fire activity as well.”