Okanagan heat wave increases wildfire risk

The Okanagan prepares for unusually hot weather at this time of year

As temperatures climb in the Okanagan Valley this week, so does the fire risk.

Environment Canada issued a special weather statement alerting the public to daytime temperatures of 30 C in the Central Okanagan and near 35 C in the Southwest Interior.

While the first official day of summer is on Thursday, the Okanagan is seeing summer-like heat today.

Temperatures could spring into the mid-30s in places like Oliver, Osoyoos and other parts of the south Okanagan.

“What we have is a very strong multi-day ridge affecting all of B.C. and with that comes extreme UV and building heat day after night after day after night,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Armel Castellan.

Unsettled weather will move in mid-week, bringing a risk of rain and thunderstorms.

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“We have to get over this possible humidity/rain event, a lot of convection that is possible later this week, so that will become a little bit clearer as we get into Wednesday,” Castellan said.

READ MORE: Okanagan weather outlook – Heating Up for Father’s Day weekend

Forecasters say the weather event will be followed by extremely warm temperatures late in the week, causing vegetation to dry up.

“That definitely dries up those earlier June rains and then you start to become more susceptible to wildfires to start and propagate,” he said.

The BC Wildfire Service said while the Okanagan Valley is currently at a low to moderate fire risk, that could change as heat trends continue.

“As the temperatures rise up into those mid 30s and as the humidity levels go down, we will see the fire danger rating increase,” said fire information officer Brenna Ward.

This is the third streak of 30-degree heat the Okanagan has seen so far this year.

The above-normal temperatures are consistent with what the Okanagan experienced in May.

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Castellan said the average temperature in Kelowna was five degrees above normal at 17.8 C.

“That’s incredibly warm, that’s the warmest May on record,” he said.

The scorching hot temperatures prompted the Interior Health Authority to encourage the public to take precautions in the heat.

READ MORE: Another heat wave extends the threat of flooding in B.C.

The BC Centre for Disease Control provides these tips to prevent heat-related illness:

  • Never leave children alone in a parked car. Temperatures can rise to 52 C (125 F) within 20 minutes inside a vehicle when the outside temperature is 34 C (93 F). Leaving the car windows slightly open will not keep the inside of the vehicle at a safe temperature.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink extra water even before you feel thirsty and if you are active on a hot day. Ask your health care provider about how much water you should drink on hot days if you are on water pills or limiting your fluid intake.
  • Keep cool. Stay indoors in air-conditioned buildings or take a cool bath or shower. At temperatures above 30 C (86 F), fans alone may not be able to prevent heat-related illness. Remember, sunscreen will protect against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays but not from the heat.
  • Plan your outdoor activity before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., when the sun’s Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the weakest.
  • Avoid tiring work or exercise in hot, humid environments. If you must work or exercise, drink two to four glasses of non-alcoholic fluids each hour. Rest breaks are important and should be taken in the shade.
  • Avoid sunburn. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin and an SPF 30 lip balm.
  • Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and a wide brimmed hat, or use an umbrella for shade.
  • Regularly check older adults, children and others for signs of heat-related illness and make sure they are keeping cool and drinking plenty of fluids. Check on those who are unable to leave their homes, and people with emotional or mental health concerns whose judgment may be impaired.

The 30 degree heat will gradually slide out later in the week with a risk of thunderstorms returning mid-week.

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