Smoke billowing from one of the wildfires in the Okanagan Valley. Photo courtesy of candicetdias/Instagram

Soaring temperatures, high winds could worsen fires in B.C.’s southern Interior

Environment Canada’s forecast for the next week in the southern Interior does not inspire confidence, with temperatures in the 30s and winds gusting over 40 kilometres per hour.

Officials in British Columbia’s southern Interior say the warm temperatures and gusty winds in the forecast could spell the end of two days of relief from wildfires raging in the area.

Jason Luciw with the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre in Kelowna, B.C., says officials are would like to see a repeat of the weather the area has seen over the past few days, but he’s not confident it will hold.

“We saw a much happier, much friendlier, Okanagan summer day yesterday,” Luciw said on Sunday.

But Environment Canada’s forecast for the next week in the southern Interior does not inspire confidence, with temperatures in the 30s and winds gusting over 40 kilometres per hour.

“What we don’t want to see is intense heat, direct sun, heavy winds … all of which could be in store starting as early as Monday,” said Luciw.

He said the lower temperatures with cloud coverage and calmer winds helped contain the growth of a fire near Mount Eneas to around 13.74 square kilometres, and cleared out much of the smoke seen in the area on Saturday. Mount Eneas is roughly 35 kilometres south of Kelowna, between the towns of Summerland and Peachland.

The B.C. Wildfire Service’s chief fire information officer, Kevin Skrepnek, agreed with Luciw, saying the weather outlook for the foreseeable future will be problematic for the Interior — including unpredictable lightning strikes.

“Not only are we thinking that our existing fires are probably going to flare up a bit … but we are also bracing for the potential that a lot of new fires could start with that lightning,” he said.

Related: Okanagan Wildfires: An update on wildfires and evacuations

Related: Okanagan Mountain Park fire remains the same size

Related: Cooler temps Friday, but no rain in forecast until August

Environment Canada has maintained a smoky skies bulletin for large parts of the province, including the East Kootenay region, just west of the Albertan border, to the Okanagan Valley area roughly 350 kilometres west of the border.

Peter Waterman, mayor of the Summerland district, said no properties had been reported as damaged or destroyed by the Mount Eneas fire as of Sunday, and he was happy with the co-ordinated efforts of the wildfire service and local fire departments throughout the Interior.

“I’m quite pleased with the amount of people on this particular fire. It looks like they’re really aggressively going after it,” he said.

He added that the smoke in the area around Summerland had largely blown off by Sunday.

“I was out for about an hour-and-a-quarter bike ride early this morning, and you can smell it, but that’s about all.”

Waterman said that across Okanagan Lake from Summerland, the village of Naramata was dealing with two fires. Regional District Chair Karla Kozakevich, who represents Naramata, confirmed both are under control.

Kozakevich said while they are concerned about a fire in the Glenfir area of her district, the Naramata volunteer fire department and others have kept the blaze away from homes.

“We think all the homeowners there should be fine,” said Kozakevich in a phone interview Sunday.

She said residents always have concerns about tourism in the area when natural disasters like wildfires and floods break out, but she wanted to reassure potential vacationers they will be safe and welcome.

“This is not impacting businesses, the wineries, even the residents — it looks like they will all be OK,” Kozakevich said.

Along with the 35 properties already facing evacuation orders in the area, another 890 properties were on evacuation alert between the Central Okanagan and Okanagan-Similkameen regional districts, meaning residents may have to leave at a moment’s notice.

– By Spencer Harwood in Vancouver

The Canadian Press

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