Heavy rain that fell on B.C.’s most concerning fires Monday meant upwards of 450 properties were taken off evacuation orders in the northeast part of the province.
As of Monday evening, there were nearly 90 wildfires burning across the province with the majority in the Peace region in the northeast, including three wildfires of note — Donnie Creek, Stoddart Creek and Red Creek.
The Stoddart Creek and Red Creek blazes, northwest of Fort St. John, were downgraded in status to “being held” — which means they are not expected to spread past containment lines, after weeks of burning out of control.
It led to the Peace River Regional District rescinding evacuation orders for 450 properties close to the fires, with those regions now placed on evacuation alert instead.
All remaining Evacuation Orders in the PRRD area have been cancelled. All of the areas that were under an Evacuation Order, are now under an Evacuation Alert. Areas previously under Alert are no longer under any Alerts. Visit <a href=”https://t.co/CmufTaSjmI”>https://t.co/CmufTaSjmI</a> for details. <a href=”https://t.co/ouGBrjN8rp”>pic.twitter.com/ouGBrjN8rp</a>
“People can go home safely. We’re recommending that most people travel during the daylight hours,” said Mike Watkins, director of the district’s emergency operations centre, in a Monday news conference. “There’s no rush to go home.”
Evacuees from the region had to go as far away as Prince George and Chetwynd, hundreds of kilometres away, as the City of Fort St. John was itself on evacuation alert for a few days.
Watkins says returning evacuees may have to watch for flash flooding as heavy rain hits the region, which is under a rainfall warning.
B.C. Wildfire Service information officer Forrest Tower said that up to 40 millimetres of rain fell on the Stoddart Creek fire on Monday, which aided firefighters significantly.
“This amount of rain will have a quite high drastic short-term impact on these fires. It might have a long-lasting impact on the smaller wildfires,” he told the news conference.
Cooler temperatures and a wind shift meant that firefighters were able to conduct a planned ignition operation Saturday to inhibit the spread of the Stoddart Creek blaze. Tower says smoke may still be visible in the area as temperatures slightly rebound in the middle of the week.
The Donnie Creek fire remains burning out of control over nearly 1,350 square kilometres southeast of Fort Nelson in a sparsely populated area.
However, fire information officer Shaelee Stearns said there was a “very large amount of precipitation” that fell on the fire Monday, and the fire service would continue to keep an eye on any future growth.
However, there is also the risk that thunderstorms in B.C.’s Interior could lead to more fires.
Severe thunderstorm watches were issued Sunday for several regions including the Boundary region and the Kootenays near the Alberta border, where an out-of-control wildfire in Kootenay National Park grew in estimated size to almost two square kilometres.
Three properties in B.C.’s Cariboo region were also ordered evacuated Sunday as the result of the Tzenzaicut fire, which officials say was likely sparked by lightning or other natural causes.
Environment Canada has forecast 50 to 100 millimetres of precipitation Monday through Tuesday for areas hardest hit by the fires in the Peace River region.
Meteorologist Gregg Walters said on Monday that the rain was expected to ease by early Wednesday.
“There’s a low centred over the central part of Alberta spinning up moisture and pushing it toward northeast B.C.,” he said.
While the rain may be good news in the fight against wildfires it could also lead to catastrophic flooding, B.C.’s River Forecast Centre has warned.
Flood watches were issued Sunday for the Boundary, Kootenays and Columbia regions in the southeast, the Shuswap, Thompson, Bonaparte and Okanagan regions in the southern Interior and for the upper and middle Fraser River around Prince George and Quesnel.
Of particular concern is a flood watch in place for rivers and tributaries in the Peace region where the forecast centre says conditions are similar to those seen in 2016 — when flooding caused catastrophic damage to roads and highways, forcing evacuations and cutting off several communities.