PENTICTON, B.C. — Residents of the British Columbia community of Olalla are being allowed to return home after being forced out by a threatening wildfire last week.

It comes as a fierce lightning storm swept across the southern part of the province Wednesday, sparking numerous fires, and Environment Canada warns more storms are on the way.

Severe thunderstorm watches now blanket the B.C. interior from Prince George south to the U.S. border.

On Thursday, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen rescinded almost half of the nearly 500 evacuation orders that were still covering properties closest to the 67-square-kilometre wildfire.

The district says evacuation alerts for residents of the nearby village of Keremeos have also been lifted, but the Apex Mountain resort and surrounding homes remain on evacuation order.

The BC Wildfire Service website shows spot fires caused by lightning strikes on Wednesday dot the Coastal, Kamloops, Southeast and Cariboo fire centres, including 10 starts on Vancouver Island, but all remain small.

Environment Canada posted heat warnings for the Fraser Canyon, north Thompson and inland sections of the north and central coast as temperatures in the mid- to high 30s were expected to continue through Friday in the Interior, coupled with the lightning storms.

The weather office said thundershowers Thursday will likely pack winds gusting to 80 kilometres per hour, conditions the wildfire service warned could complicate work on the Penticton-area blaze where 273 properties remain on evacuation order.

It advised firefighters to expect unstable conditions as the bad weather arrived.

“Winds will be light however strong erratic and gusty winds should be expected near thunderstorms,” the wildfire service said in its daily update.

“Crews have therefore been instructed to be prepared for increased fire behaviour and change in fire spread direction.”

The hillside above the Trans-Canada Highway between Lytton and Spences Bridge was also being inspected Thursday after heavy rain from the first round of storms caused mudslides that closed the route until further notice.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

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