VANCOUVER — Haze from forest fires blanketed much of the Sunshine Coast and the Lower Mainland on Sunday morning.
Ash can be seen on vehicles in areas of the city, including Kitsilano.
The shishalh Nation in Sechelt reported this weekend that there have been big increases in respiratory distress calls to emergency services due to smoke.
The First Nation also reported that the 38-bed St. Mary’s Hospital in Sechelt has reached capacity.
An evacuation alert has been issued for some areas north of Sechelt near the 80-hectare Carlson Point blaze.
Meanwhile, hundreds of residents around B.C. have been told to pack up and get out as several raging wildfires crept closer to homes and businesses Saturday, prompting two more communities to declare states of emergency.
Shortly before noon on Saturday, two mines and a hydroelectric facility in the Pemberton Valley were placed under an evacuation order because of the Boulder Creek fire, which has doubled in size over the last two days to 500 hectares.
“It’s likely going to pick up. We have a chance of gusty winds and really low humidity. There’s no moisture in the air so we are expecting it to be quite aggressive,” Melissa Klassen, a spokeswoman with the BC Wildfire Service, said on Saturday afternoon.
The Squamish Lillooet Regional District also declared a state of emergency, which is issued when there is a threat to people or property and allows the local government to bill the province for operations.
The Boulder Creek blaze, burning 23 kilometres northwest of Pemberton in steep terrain on the Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road, was sparked by lightning last Tuesday and is zero contained. Thirteen firefighters and four helicopters were aiding in that battle on Saturday.
The fire grew signifciantly on Saturday and overnight showing extreme fire behaviour due to gusty winds and tinder-dry conditions.
Three fires — the Elaho, Boulder Creek and Nahatlatch — all displayed a vigorous and aggressive rate of spread, sometimes with crown fires, where the fire spreads from tree top to tree top.
The Elaho fire has grown to 2,000 hectares, while the Nahatlach fire is about 500 hectares.
The Boulder Creek fire tripled in size to about 1,500 hectares.
While crews are on scene they have had difficult tacking the fires because of the steep terrain, thick timber and aggressive nature of the fires, said B.C. Fire information officer Melissa Klassen.
The firefighters are being assisted by helicopters and water buckets but the smoke from the fires also presents a danger, said Klassen.
They wanted to call in a fire tanker plane on Saturday but its services were needed in other parts of the province, noted Klassen.
An evacuation order and a local state of emergency were also issued on Saturday in the Vancouver Island district of Port Hardy, where the fire is burning only about 1.5 kilometres away from the community.
The Tsulatquot River fire, which broke out on Friday and quickly spread to 17 hectares by Saturday, is suspected to have been started by humans, according to fire information officer Donna MacPherson.
Port Hardy mayor Hank Bood said about 100 homes have been evacuated, but only about 10 people had to stay in hotels on Friday night because most were with friends and family.
“We’re hopeful, but it’s still a very volatile situation,’’ he said. “People in the north island need to understand that we are in a very unusual place ... We’re not fooling around anymore.”
In the Okanagan, the 80-hectare Huckleberry fire, located in the rural Joe Rich neighbourhood between Kelowna and Big White, is one of eight large fires that pose potential risk to public safety and 170 around the province.
Thirty-two new wildfires were sparked on Friday, and officials are concerned there will be more this weekend as a heat wave continues, with temperatures spiking to the mid and high 30s in many areas. And there’s no sign of respite from the desert-like weather. Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said the outlook is similar next week, adding that a massive ridge of high pressure will remain anchored over the Pacific Northwest and “it’s just ongoing dry conditions and warmer than normal.”
“We are just not seeing a reprieve weather-wise,” said fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek on Saturday. “It’s so hot and dry and that’s causing a lot of concern.”
Fire officials say 21 firefighters worked overnight in Joe Rich and another 40 personnel were been brought in Saturday morning to battle the Huckleberry Fire, which is now burning close to homes.
Heavy smoke can be seen from Kelowna and the blaze is highly visible from Highway 33, which is closed in both directions.
The Central Okanagan Regional District issued an evacuation order late Friday for residents in 142 homes, with an evacuation alert issued for another 158 homes in the area.
An emergency reception centre was set up for displaced residents at a church east of Kelowna on Highway 33. Firefighters from Joe Rich, Kelowna, Lake Country and Ellison fire departments were being assisted by a crew from the B.C. Wildfire Management Service. People were being asked to stay away from the area.
About 40 families registered at the centre Friday night and some were found accommodation at UBC Okanagan, said Bruce Smith, an information officer with the emergency centre, said Saturday. He added that most of the evacuees were staying with friends and family.
Meanwhile, in response to an extreme fire risk in many areas of the province, and a continuing heat wave, the government on Friday issued a sweeping campfire ban.
The ban comes with the fire danger rating for the city of Vancouver, including Stanley Park, now listed as “extreme,” and about 150 homes evacuated due to a wildfire near Kelowna.
Effective at noon Friday, all open burning, including campfires and fireworks, was prohibited throughout the majority of the province.
The only area where people can have campfires will be in the so-called Fog Zone, a two-kilometre-wide strip along the outer western coast of Vancouver Island, stretching from Owen Point near Port Renfrew to the northern tip of the island and Port Hardy.
The ban also includes the use of binary exploding targets used in rifle target practice, sky lanterns and tiki torches. Anyone caught breaking it could face fines up to $100,000.
Elsewhere, a local state of emergency was declared Thursday in the northeastern B.C. community of Fort Nelson because of a wildfire burning near an oil and gas plant. An evacuation order was also issued for the Petitot River Fire and affects about 15 people at the Penn West/Wildboy plant and some houses in the area.
Fire officials were concerned the 4,150-hectare blaze could spread from high winds, but by Saturday morning there was no significant growth.
Firefighters were also dealing with a fire on the Sunshine Coast that broke out Thursday. A blaze about 10 kilometres northeast of Sechelt had doubled in size by Saturday to 65 hectares. An evacuation alert was issued by the Sunshine Coast Regional District affecting about 18 properties. Residents were told they may need to leave their homes within a 10-minute warning and were asked to pack an emergency supply kit containing medication and necessary personal items.