Firefighters watch the weather as wildfire smoke continues to pose issues in B.C.
Evacuation orders and alerts remained in place Saturday due to wildfires in B.C., with thunderstorms forecast for the regions most affected by blazes.
A special weather statement and smoky skies bulletin warning of wildfire smoke — and the elevated health risks associated with it — are in place for the eastern half of the province.
It covers the Peace River region in northeast B.C., where all four "wildfires of note" — those that pose a threat to public safety or are particularly visible — are burning out of control.
One of them, the Donnie Creek fire — burning over an area of 1,182 square kilometres southeast of Fort Nelson — led to new evacuation orders Friday in an area primarily used by industry.
Major fires surrounding Fort St. John
"Today [Saturday], crews and heavy equipment will continue to work on the south end of the fire, establishing structure protection and assessing access for control lines, with support from aerial resources," said Shaelee Stearns, a fire information officer.
The Fort Nelson First Nation also issued an evacuation alert for the Fontas area, due to the Klua Lakes fire near the community of Prophet River, which is currently burning over 182.63 square kilometres. The nation says the area includes one inhabited home and "many cultural sites".
The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality had already ordered residents within about 20 kilometres of the blaze, which straddles the municipality's border with the Peace River Regional District, to evacuate around 1:30 p.m. PT Friday.
On Friday around noon, Parks Canada also said it was responding to a wildfire burning around 40 hectares, or 0.4 square kilometres, in the Mitchell Ridge area of southern Kootenay National Park. That fire is expected to increase in size Saturday.
As of Saturday morning, there were 77 fires burning across the province. Evacuation orders and alerts remain in place for much of the PRRD.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says that crews have made good progress on the fires burning close to the city of Fort St. John, which was placed on evacuation alert earlier this week.
Fire Information Officer Karley Desrosiers says the Stoddart Creek wildfire — the largest of the blazes — grew by only six square kilometres in the last 24 hours, aided by southerly winds blowing the flames north.
Desrosiers says crews will take advantage of the blaze's current northerly shift to set up a controlled burn near Highway 97 at the fire's southern edge.
If successful, the controlled burn would significantly boost the lines of defence when the wind direction is forecasted to change back towards the south later in the weekend.
Since April 1, more than 200 wildfires have burned in B.C., largely within the Prince George Fire Centre, which roughly covers the northeast quarter of the province. Of those fires, 85 per cent were human caused and preventable, the government said.
Thunderstorms in the forecast
While much of the fires during the wildfire season so far were due to human activity, lightning remains a huge risk for new fire starts this weekend. Desrosiers says crews are on the watch for "dry lightning" and any new potential fires that may get ignited if rain does not fall in significant amounts.
In Fort St. John, Environment Canada says there is a risk of thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon.
In the southern Interior, Environment Canada says there's a risk of a thunderstorm in Kamloops and Kelowna on Saturday, with a chance of showers through Monday.
On Saturday afternoon, the forecaster issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the Southern Interior, and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Central Okanagan and Boundary regions.
"Meteorologists are tracking a severe thunderstorm capable of producing strong wind gusts, up to nickel-size hail and heavy rain," reads the warning, which tells people to go indoors during lightning storms.
"A severe thunderstorm near Big White Ski Resort is moving northward at a speed of 30 km/h."
Large open burning was banned across the province on Thursday to prevent human-caused wildfires.
In addition, all open fires, including campfires, are now prohibited throughout the Prince George Fire Centre.
The wildfire service says campfires elsewhere in the province have to be confined to 50 centimetres in height and diameter, with water kept on hand to douse flames if necessary.