Smoke obscures sky at Okanagan Lake and other areas of the B.C. Interior. (Black Press)

B.C. wildfire emergency extended to Sept. 1

Dozens of fires still burning since July declaration

A provincial state of emergency has been extended to Sept. 1 as provincial forest officials cope with the largest area affected by fire since B.C. records were kept starting in 1950.

The declaration, imposed July 19 and now extended a third time, applies to the entire province. It gives federal and provincial officials extra authority to conduct evacuations and take whatever actions necessary to protect people and property.

As of Friday morning there are 138 wildfires in B.C., with 27 evacuation orders affecting approximately 4,400 people and 40 evacuation orders affecting more than 20,000 more. The area burned is estimated at more than 9,000 square kilometres, exceeding the previous record set in 1958.

One reason for the vast area burned this year is the grassland and semi-desert sagebrush areas of the Cariboo-Chilcotin and upper Fraser Canyon region, made drier by the lack of sustained rain since the end of June. The damage to harvested hay and grazing land is an additional burden to ranchers and farmers dealing with destroyed fences and thousands of scattered livestock, some of which have died in the fires.

B.C. Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said the largest fires near Kamloops and Williams Lake remain stable, but winds gusting up to 80 km/h are forecast going into the weekend and that may cause them to spread.

Rain showers are expected, along with lightning through the affected areas, with more sustained rain forecast for the northwest.