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Many B.C. fires add to area smoke

Smoke emanating from fires throughout the province and Washington State have prompted Environment Canada to issue a “smoky skies advisory” for most of the B.C. Interior, including the Shuswap.

“Take your pick,” offered fire protection officer Larry Osachoff, when asked Wednesday where the smoke is coming from. “Basically it’s attributed to all the forest fires in B.C. and it’s intensifying more and more as the high pressure system does not allow it to disburse.”

There was concern that cooler weather due to arrive late Wednesday evening could arrive in the form of thunderstorms with the possibility of lightning from Clearwater down through Salmon Arm.

“That’s a big heads up as they’re usually packing unpredictable winds and escalating fire behaviour up to 200 times,” he said. “For us, if it’s packing lightning, we’ll be on the safeguards.”

Osachoff said another weather change was expected late Friday to Saturday, bringing rain in some areas, showers for others and cloudy, cooler conditions to remain through the weekend.

Tinder-dry conditions and extremely aggressive wildfire behaviour  has resulted in a prohibition of campfires in the entire Kamloops Fire Centre.

The ban, which went into effect July 16 at noon, includes the Salmon Arm Fire Zone that  covers the entire Shuswap area, where the fire danger rating is currently high, with pockets of extreme.

“This step is being taken to help prevent human-caused wildfires and protect public safety,” reads a Kamloops Fire Centre bulletin. “With the current trend of warm and dry weather, wildfires in the region have displayed very aggressive behaviour and required additional fire suppression resources.”

In the good-news department, Osachoff said Monday that patrols found no abandoned campfires in the Salmon Arm zone last weekend.

“It was a very good weekend for patrols – everyone is paying attention regarding the size of their campfires,” he said. “We had no unusual events.”

The zone also lucked out Monday night when  thunderstorms tracked through Hope and Merritt instead of the Shuswap, igniting several wildfires in those areas.

Officials warn that caution is also required when using machinery. A fire was discovered Monday afternoon in a logging cutblock in the Owlhead Drainage above Sicamous.

Fire crews were assisted by the operator, who had already shut down operations.

“All the equipment was on-site and he sent operators back up there to put a cat guard around the fire,” Osachoff said, noting the fire was about half-a-hectare in size.

“We’re not exactly sure about the cause, but it’s definitely through their operations.”

While temperatures were high last weekend, Environment Canada meteorologist Allan Coldwells said no records were broken.

Salmon Arm’s automatic station read 35C, not far off the 35.2C recorded in 2012. But the station has only been in place for 23 years.

“The worst-case scenario was 37.8C from 1930,” Coldwells said. “I’m not exactly sure where it was. It says Salmon Arm. It was likely on someone’s farm.”

Environment Canada predicts temperatures will be higher than normal right through to the end of September.

With current conditions and this prediction in mind, Kamloops Fire Centre’s Kayla Pepper says it is crucial that people keep their eyes open and report any smoke or fires to 1-800-663-5555, or *5555 on their cell phones.

New this year, the Wildfire Management Branch has set up a phone line to allow people to report a violation of the campfire ban within the Kamloops Fire Centre. Call 1-844 NRO-TIPS (1-844-676-8477) or fill out the reporting form at www.for.gov.bc.ca/hen/nrv.

Anyone found in violation of an open fire ban, including campfires and burn barrels may be issued a ticket for up to $345.

Anyone who causes a wildfire through arson or recklessness may be fined up to $1 million, spend up to three years in prison and be held accountable for associated firefighting costs.

 

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