Relief from smoke in the Shuswap could come by Friday, but not likely sooner, according to weather and fire officials.
Smoke has been blanketing the area this week because of a ridge of high pressure that’s hovering over much of B.C., sending winds to northern parts of the province, says Cindy Yu, meteorologist with Environment Canada.
The 117,000-hectare (as of Tuesday) Elephant Hill fire northeast of Kamloops, the 169-hectare Galena wildfire five kilometres east of Galena Bay, and a fire in Idaho to the south have been producing most of the haze that’s sending people indoors.
The good news, weather-wise, is that rain is in the forecast for Sunday and Monday.
Yu says that following a hot Thursday and Friday, probably in the low 30s, a trough of low pressure is heading in. That could create winds to push the smoke away.
“This trough will move into the Salmon Arm region as early as Saturday,” she says, predicting showers possibly by late Friday or Saturday. Unfortunately, those showers may be accompanied by a risk of thunderstorms.
“The most precipitation will be Sunday and Monday, with a possibility of 10 to 15 millimetres of rain.”
The temperature on Sunday is forecast to drop to a high of 24 degrees.
Meanwhile, this past weekend was relatively good in terms of regional fires.
“The long weekend was pretty quiet as to new incidents,” said Rachel Witt, fire information officer with the Kamloops Fire Centre. “That was largely due to the weather, which is kind of due to the smoke; valleys have been socked in and the temperatures a little cooler.”
One new wildfire was sparked, about 12 kilometres north of Celista, but it’s now 100 per cent contained.
“We had crews and air tankers on it right away, we were able to contain it and it’s now under control,” Witt said Tuesday.
“It was actually in quite a remote area, so access was one of the trickiest parts.”
With help from helicopters and a Rapattack crew from Salmon Arm, the fire, which was spotted Friday evening, was completely contained at one hectare by Sunday, Aug. 6.
The closest fire to Salmon Arm and Sicamous is the Galena fire, 110 kilometres as the crow flies to Salmon Arm.
It was lightning-caused and has shown “no significant growth or change over the last couple of nights,” reports Karlee Kachman with the Southeast Fire Centre, which includes Galena Bay.
She says 16 personnel, two helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment are working on the west flank of the blaze, which is highly visible from Galena Bay and Highway 23.
“They’re continuing to put a guard in and additionally working to widen the guard in some areas.”
The Revelstoke and Area Emergency Management Program issued an evacuation alert Saturday for an area around Galena Bay as a precautionary measure, but no evacuations have taken place.
The huge Elephant Hill fire held relatively steady over the past few days thanks to light winds. As of Monday, 457 firefighters, 89 structural protection units and 105 pieces of heavy equipment were working on it.
Witt says the Kamloops Fire Centre has responded to 170 fires so far this year, 16 of which are still active. Although the number of fires to date is not up significantly from 2016 – 156 compared to 170 – the number of hectares burned tells a different story.
This year 117,888 hectares have burned in the Kamloops Fire Centre, compared to 261 hectares during the same period last year.
To state the obvious, the fire danger in the Shuswap continues to be extreme. No open burning is permitted, including campfires, chimeneas, tiki torches, fireworks and sky lanterns. As well, off-road vehicles have been banned from the backcountry.
Although the smoke this year is being felt by many people, that hasn’t translated into more local hospital visits.
“There has been no noticeable increase in the number of patients at Shuswap Lake General Hospital presenting with health concerns due to wildfire smoke,” stated Peter Du Toit, acute health service administrator for the Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap, in an email. “However, we know that smoke during wildfire season may exacerbate certain chronic medical conditions.”
Interior Health encourages the public to take note of public health advice from the Medical Health Office, which includes reducing exposure to smoke by such measures as: reducing outdoor activity if breathing becomes uncomfortable, going to a mall with cooler filtered air; using a HEPA filter than can reduce poor indoor air quality near the device; maintaining good overall health; and seeking medical help if symptoms of heart or lung conditions are noted.