New evacuations were underway in central and southeastern British Columbia following a significant escalation of overnight fire activity.
The City of Castlegar issued an evacuation order Thursday afternoon for properties on Meadowbrook Drive, Tassone Place, Highland Drive and residents of the Castleview Care Centre due to the rapidly growing Merry Creek fire.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay declared a state of local emergency, and issued its own evacuation order for 28 properties in Electoral Area J, including s on 14th Ave., Fernwood Drive, Highway 3, Killough Road, Lucas Ave, Lucas Road, Mason Road and Merry Creek Forest Service Road.
Evacuees were being directed to the the District Recreation Centre at 2101 6th Avenue.
The fire, which was discovered Thursday ballooned from two to seven hectares in just a few hours.
Crews from the BC Wildfire Service and the Castlegar and Ootischenia fire departments were on scene.
The BC Wildfire Service said the fire is suspected to have been human-caused, and added it was producing smoke that was highly visible from Castlegar, Highway 22 and surrounding areas.
DriveBC said that Highway 3 was closed between the junction of Highway 22 and Nancy Green Provincial Park in response; a detour was in place via Highway 3B through Trail and Rossland.
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It came after Premier John Horgan said the province had seen 29,000 lightning strikes and 62 new fires in a 24-hour period at a Thursday wildfire briefing.
Late Wednesday, the Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order for 679 properties in Deka Lake, about 40 kilometres east of 100 Mile House, due to a 70-hectare, lightning-caused wildfire.
Residents were being asked to register at an emergency social services centre at 175 Wrangler Way in 100 Mile House.
On Thursday, mapping from BC Wildfire showed more than two dozen fires in a 40-kilometre semicircle east of 100 Mile House.
Eight regions of British Columbia, including the Peace River, North and West Columbia, North Thompson, Okanagan Valley and Shuswap were also under severe thunderstorm watches on Thursday.
Environment Canada warned of lightning, strong winds, large hail and heavy rain.
“Strong wind gusts can toss loose objects, damage weak buildings, break branches off trees and overturn large vehicles,” it said.
“Intense lightning is likely with any thunderstorm that develops.”
The BC Wildfire Service said it was expecting another “challenging day” due to extremely high fire risk from “unprecedented hot and dry conditions” following the province’s record-breaking heat wave.
“Fires that do spark are at high risk of aggressive, fast-moving activity,” it said.
Horgan said the province had been in contact with the federal government about supports, up to and including help from the Canadian Forces.
“I regret to say this is the third of five years of horrific fires in my time in this job,” he said, adding that the province was now grappling with the reality of climate change.
“We are going to see increasing high temps for long periods of time, increasingly intense fire seasons.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province could “absolutely” implement a new provincial state of emergency if conditions worsened, “such as we have seen in past fire seasons.”