WATCH: Much of Metro Vancouver’s smoke is coming from several large fires burning near Pemberton. John Hua has a closer look at the source of the haze.
UPDATE (July 6, 10:30 p.m.) – The B.C. Wildfire Service said fires in the Pemberton area have generated a thick blanket of smoke that prevented firefighting aircraft from flying Monday morning and afternoon, but also say wildfires in the area do not appear to have grown significantly.
The Elaho wildfire is still estimated at 20,000 hectares and the Cougar Creek wildfire is estimated at 5,000 hectares. The Boulder Creek wildfire was estimated at 12,000 hectares yesterday, but better intelligence has determined the fire is closer to 5,000 hectares in size.
On an evening where fires were seemingly raging all over British Columbia, it was near Pemberton where damage was the greatest.
In total, three different large fires in the Boulder Wildfire Complex exploded in growth over the last 24 hours, growing by over ten times in size.
The Elaho Valley fire, which has been burning 67 kilometres northwest of Pemberton since the middle of June, was measured at 2,000 hectares, or 20 square kilometres, in size, this morning.
But now, it’s believed to be as big as 20,000 hectares, or 200 square kilometres.
“This fire is displaying a vigorous and aggressive rate of spread, with periods of organized crown fire,” said the Wildfire Management Branch in a statement.
“This type of fire behaviour consumes timber completely through to the tree tops, and has a high potential of spotting ahead of the fire. It also poses a safety risk for ground crews and aircraft conducting fire suppression efforts.”
Fire Information Officer Melissa Klassen said winds blew the fire to the southeast, closer to Pemberton, and the slope of the mountains accelerated its growth. While the wind has since reversed course, the fire is still growing in that direction.
“You’d think the growth would happen on the north end, on the upslope. But even with a bit of a wind, the activity is to the south,” said Klassen.
The situation is much the same for theBoulder Creek fire, approximately 23 kilometres northwest of Pemberton.
It was just 500 hectares yesterday, but is now as large as 12,000 hectares.
An evacuation order put in place yesterday affects three industrial properties – two pumice mines and the Innergex IPP. While one of the mines is currently not in use, employees at the other two sites left work yesterday.
Both the Elaho and Boulder Creek fires have grown so much that additional farms and structures closer to Pemberton have been given warnings about the blaze, but no evacuation alert has been put in place yet.
Meanwhile, the Nahatlatch wildfire, west of the Fraser Canyon between Boston Bar and Pemberton, also continues to grow. It was estimated at 360 hectares yesterday morning, is now approximately 5,000 hectares.
The fires are helping to contribute to a blanket of haze which extends as far southeast as Victoria.
It’s believe all three fires were caused by lightning – a common occurrence this year, says the provincial fire officers.
“It’s unusual to have seen the amount of lightning at this time of year in B.C. that we have so far in 2015,” says Kevin Skrepnek, Provincial Fire Information Officer.
“Of the 841 fires we’ve responded to since April 1, almost 480 of them – well over half – were lightning caused. That’s been a big driver of activity.”
The fires are causing concern for many planning to go to Pemberton for the Pemberton Music Festival, which takes next from July 16-19.
Klassen says communication plans as it regards to the festival are starting to be discussed, but there’s been no talk of cancelling or postponing the event.
“It’s hard to project what’s going to happen in the next week, let alone farther than that,” she says.
However, she advises anyone planning to go who struggles with smoke inhalation to be aware of the air quality – and for festival goers generally to keep up to date with what’s happening.
“With the kind of fire activity we are seeing, one of the biggest impacts is not only smoke in the Pemberton area, but also Whistler and Squamish. It’s going to be very visible, and potentially make for not a pleasant situation for people who out in that area,” says Klassen.
“If you’re making any travel plans to these areas where these fires may eventually affect them, just keep abreast of what’s happening.”
The Pemberton Music Festival says at this point, their original plans haven’t changed.
“There are absolutely no plans to cancel the festival at this time,” they said in a statement.
“We are receiving regular updates from authorities, who inform us that the the fires are currently far enough away from the festival site that their impact on the event will be minimal, if any. However, public safety is our number one concern, and we are monitoring the situation closely for any developments that might effect the festival, our neighbours, or our fans.”
-with files from Jon Azpiri