Wildfire smoke likely to linger in Peace region over long weekend: BCWS

The BC Wildfire Service said in an update Friday afternoon that wildfire smoke in the North Peace region will most likely remain in the area over the May long weekend.

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Wildfire smoke in Fort St. John on May 19th, 2023 (Spencer Hall, Energeticcity.ca)

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) said in an update Friday afternoon that wildfire smoke in the North Peace region will most likely remain in the area over the May long weekend.

Fire information officer with the BCWS, Forrest Tower, said that the incoming weather system has made it difficult to anticipate what will happen in regard to fire activity in the region over the next three to four days. There is expected to be an increase in wind and a change in wind direction over the next few days.

Tower said wind will start to blow wildfire smoke away from local fires, but it’s unlikely the Peace will see a decrease in wildfire smoke lingering in the region, which is primarily coming from fires in the Donnie Creek complex and Alberta.

He added that it’s unclear if the region will see rain over the next few days due to the unstable weather pattern moving into the Peace, which could bring increased precipitation and lightning.

“If there is localized precipitation in Fort St. John area, it may not have any impact on the amount of smoke. The bigger factor there is wind. While we have increased winds, we haven’t really seen any wind activity that is enough to push smoke out of the area,” Tower explained.

“Going into the weekend, I would anticipate it being quite smokey—as it is—for the next couple of days, and we might see some clearer air after the weekend, is what I would say at this point.”

Communications manager with the City of Fort St. John, Ryan Harvey, said that despite the amount of smoke in the air, Fort St. John is not currently in any danger from wildfires in the area, a point that was echoed by Peace River Regional District emergency operations coordinator Mike Watkins about Dawson Creek.

Much like the wildfire smoke, Tower said that anticipated fire activity over the next few days is up in the air.

“There may or may not be precipitation brought within that weather system that’s coming in. We’ll have to wait to see in the next couple of days whether we get precipitation, but most likely going to receive an increase in wind from what we have seen in the past,” Tower said.

Though some wind is expected over the weekend, it will not hit the speeds it did earlier in the week. Instead, the wind may assist in moving smoke off the fires so BCWS crews can better look at the fires in the complex.

He said that if the Stoddart Creek fire, now estimated between 25,000 to 26,000 hectares, gets clean air on it, there will likely be an increase in fire activity. Winds on Thursday caused about 3,000 to 4,000 hectares of growth in the northwest portion of the fire, added Tower.

The blaze was able to cross the Blueberry River on Thursday, however, there is no further anticipated growth in the area.

“With our current weather and the forecast that we’ve been given, that shouldn’t be an area of major concern,” Tower stated.

He said the most significant activity from the Stoddart Creek fire has been in the northwest portion, and BCWS has crews working in that area.

Tower said that there is potential for some planned ignitions along Highway 97, but those likely won’t occur until Saturday or Sunday due to wildfire smoke that has grounded helicopters since Thursday.

“We’re looking for a weather window to conduct[those burns.] If so, there might be some interruptions to Highway 97 traffic. We might have to close the highway down temporarily,” Tower said.

He said that BCWS is trying not to have to take that step but will have to if there are significant winds that blow the fire toward the highway.

Tower said there hasn’t been much change on the Red Creek, Boundary Lake or Cameron River wildfires.

“We haven’t had a size change on any of those in the last few days, and those are steadily progressing towards being either being held or under control,” Tower reported.

He added that even if the region gets precipitation, BCWS is anticipating the Stoddart Creek fire to grow due to its size and the amount of work that remains.

“Drought codes are still very high in this area. This will be a fire that will have a presence on it for quite some time unless we receive significant rain, in which case, at this time of the year, could put the fire to bed a little bit early.”

Fires further north near Fort Nelson continue to burn out of control, with several smaller fires merging into the Donnie Creek Wildfire, now estimated at 118,000 hectares.

The ministry of transportation says Highway 97 remains open as of Friday afternoon, with portions of the highway near Beatton Airport Road being down to single-lane alternating traffic due to wildfire response activities.

Red Creek Road has been re-opened to traffic, but drivers should expect delays due to crews at work. Lower Cache Road remains closed.

For more information about road closures in the Peace region, visit Drive BC.

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