British Columbia

7 human-caused wildfires reported in central B.C. in 1 afternoon

Wildfire crews are battling an out-of-control wildfire in central British Columbia — one of seven human-caused blazes reported in the Cariboo region on Saturday afternoon, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Evacuation alerts in place in Burgess Creek and Endako areas due to out-of-control fires

A large fire burns on a treed ridge.
The out-of-control Burgess Creek Wildfire burns on April 20, 2024, about 50 kilometres south of Quesnel, B.C. It is one of 7 human-caused wildfires reported in the Cariboo region in a single afternoon, according to B.C. Wildfire Service. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Wildfire crews are battling an out-of-control wildfire in the Cariboo region of British Columbia — one of seven human-caused blazes reported in the province's central Interior on Saturday afternoon.

The Burgess Creek fire has ballooned overnight, growing from 0.5 square kilometres to 16 square kilometres in size on Sunday. It is burning about 50 kilometres south of Quesnel, a city about 415 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

The fire is sending a thick plume of smoke into the air that is visible from Quesnel, Williams Lake and Highway 97, according to B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) information officer Madison Dahl.

However, Dahl said Sunday afternoon that no homes or buildings are threatened at this time, and firefighters were able to more accurately map the size of the wildfire on Sunday morning.

"Due to the incredibly dry conditions and the strong winds we had [Saturday], we did see an increase in the size of that wildfire this morning," she told CBC News.

The Cariboo Regional District has issued an evacuation alert covering more than 32 square kilometres in the Burgess Creek area.

The district's Emergency Operations Centre says the alert covers six parcels of land, and residents are being told to be ready to evacuate on short notice.

A large plume of smoke in the distance on a ridge.
The Burgess Creek wildfire is not threatening any structures, according to Dahl. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Dahl said there were around 40 personnel working to contain the blaze on Sunday, and helicopters and planes were also on site.

"We are expecting to see winds again today," Dahl said. "Hopefully, not as strong as yesterday, but they will be pushing that smoke to the north."

Category 2 and 3 fire bans remain in place across the fire centre, which means large open fires, including pile burns, are not allowed, according to Dahl.

The other six fires reported in the Cariboo fire centre on Saturday are all either out, under control or being held, according to BCWS. 

"That's in large part thanks to the efforts of volunteer fire departments both in Quesnel and Williams Lake," said Dahl. 

But Dahl said it is still "a lot of wildfires to respond to" in one day, let alone so early in the spring. 

The human activities suspected of causing the fires are unknown and will be investigated, Dahl added.

In B.C., human-caused wildfires refer to all blazes sparked by anything other than lightning, ranging from agricultural and industrial activity to sparks from a campfire or a back-country vehicle to arson or a discarded cigarette.

Concerns over other fires

Crews are also battling out-of-control wildfires that started in other parts of B.C.'s Interior this weekend, signalling an early start to what wildfire and election officials have warned could be another "very challenging" wildfire season ahead.

Residents of the small community of Endako, west of Vanderhoof, were put on evacuation alert Sunday afternoon due to an out-of-control wildfire that started just 850 metres away across Highway 16 on Saturday.

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The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) issued the alert for approximately 50 properties at 3:30 p.m. because BCWS advised the 0.25-square-kilometre fire poses a "potential danger to life and health," said RDBN chair Mark Parker.

Parker said high winds up to 60 km/h drove the fire away quickly overnight, but they shifted Sunday to blow it back toward the small community.

"It was extremely lucky yesterday," said Parker. "If the wind had been the other way, that small community would have been just gone."

The fire is believed to be human caused, according to the BCWS website, same as another out-of-control wildfire burning on the other side of Vanderhoof, just north of Fraser Lake.

Parker says there have been three other grass fires in the RDBN this weekend already, and it's concerning to see so early in the year.

"We don't like to see this," he said, noting the RDBN saw an "extreme number" of fires during last year's record wildfire season.

"[The fires] heighten the anxiety level right off the bat."

BCWS and Kamloops fire crews responded Saturday to an out-of-control grass fire near Cooney Bay, about 15 kilometres west of downtown Kamloops on the north bank of the Thompson River. 

A helicopter sprays water on a patch of grass near a railway track.
A B.C. Wildfire Service helicopter is seen at the scene of a grass fire in Kamloops, B.C., on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Ken Uzeloc/Twitter)

Fire Chief Ken Uzeloc told CBC News they first responded around 12:30 a.m. PT on Saturday, but had to request support from BCWS that afternoon as the fire began to spread.

"We requested some air support, and fortunately, B.C. Wildfire [Service] managed to get us a couple of helicopters to come and assist," he said. "Also, we had support from CN Railway who brought a tanker truck and their firefighting train."

Uzeloc says the fire is suspected to have been caused by human activity, and reminded residents of the province's ongoing drought and a ban on campfires and outdoor burning within city limits.

"You cannot be playing around with fire or campfires and think that, 'Oh, I'll just keep this contained,'" the fire chief said. "We really need people to be vigilant."

A train with water hose attachments puts out a patch of singed grass next to the tracks.
A firefighting train from CN Railway is pictured at the scene of a grass fire near Kamloops, B.C., on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Ken Uzeloc/Twitter)

About 20 kilometres north of Lytton, the out-of-control Skoonka Creek wildfire is burning over an area of 0.5 square kilometres, according to fire information officer Shae Stearns.

Stearns told CBC News Sunday that BCWS is taking a modified response to the fire because there is no immediate risk to life or property.

"The fire is blowing at a lower intensity, working its way through that drier fuel, while still having some of that snow in the area, which keeps that intensity down," she said.

In the province's southeast corner, a small fire was discovered on Saturday as well and is burning out of control about 20 kilometres north of Grand Forks, according to the BCWS website. It is also suspected to be human-caused, according to the service.

Dahl urged people out enjoying nature to be careful and to report smoke and other signs of fire to BCWS immediately.

"Every time we have to respond to a human-caused wildfire, especially after a lightning burst, that depletes the resources that we have to respond to those natural fires," she said of the Cariboo wildfires.

"These are all preventable fires."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Moira Wyton is a Vancouver-based journalist for CBC News. She previously reported on politics for the Edmonton Journal and covered health at The Tyee. Her reporting has been nominated for national and provincial awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists, Jack Webster Foundation and the Digital Publishing Awards. You can reach her at moira.wyton@cbc.ca.

With files from Jenifer Norwell, Akshay Kulkarni and The Canadian Press