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New human-caused wildfires in B.C. prompt call for vigilance

Firefighters tackle a flare up at the Smith Creek fire located on a hillside in West Kelowna, B.C., Saturday, July, 19, 2014. Nearly 200 wildfires were active on Sunday, August 3, 2014.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Officials are cautioning B.C. residents after six new human-caused wildfires erupted in one day in a province already facing a spike in natural wildfires due to dry, hot conditions.

Of the 62 new wildfires that started on Saturday, about 53 were caused by dry lightning, said Navi Saini, spokeswoman for the province's Wildfire Management Branch.

"The fact that six of them were human-caused is a concern for us, especially because we are expecting more dry lightning in many areas of the province," she said.

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British Columbia has requested help from outside the province, and about 600 extra personnel are on hand to help control the wildfires.

"We really need to make sure these resources can respond to those natural fires that aren't preventable," Ms. Saini said.

She said campfires, exhaust from a vehicle or equipment, or something as simple as throwing a cigarette out a window can cause a wildfire in the right weather conditions.

Nearly 200 wildfires were active on Sunday, and 11 were "of note," meaning they could endanger people or property. Areas surrounding three fires, including Euchiniko Lakes, Forres Mountain and Chelaslie River, were under evacuation orders or warnings. Visitors to Entiako Provincial Park, near the Chelaslie River fire, were ordered out, and nearby cabins were evacuated.

Since the beginning of April, nearly 200,000 hectares of forest area has burned as a result of 887 fires.

Earlier this season, Hudson's Hope and a portion of Kelowna were evacuated due to aggressive blazes, but no property was damaged and residents have since returned to their homes.

Ms. Saini said residents should check to make sure their area is not under a campfire ban and be aware of the wildfire danger rating, high in most of the province and extreme in some parts.

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"As the hot, dry weather does continue, we are expecting a more extreme danger rating, and it's very important that [people are] extra diligent with fire use," Ms. Saini said.

She could not say if more areas could be subject to evacuation orders.

"Usually, with lightning-caused wildfires, it's hard to say how quickly that fire will grow. It depends on the heat of day," Ms. Saini said. "Wind and heat are definitely the biggest factors."

About 30 per cent of last year's nearly 2,000 wildfires were caused by people, according to statistics on the Wildfire Management Branch website. The worst year for wildfires in the past decade appears to be 2009, which had more than 3,000, with just under 900 caused by people. The same year, a raging forest fire in Kelowna, B.C., forced thousands to flee their homes and destroyed several houses.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Alexandra Posadzki is a multimedia journalist who has worked in Vancouver and Toronto covering a range of topics including crime, disasters, labour strife, business, politics and justice. More

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