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Province issues public warning to help firefighters during B.C. Day weekend

The smoke from local wildfires dulls the morning West Kootenay sun. Below, The East Flank of the Snowy Mountain wildfire visible from Keremeos and Cawston on Highway 3. — The Nelson Daily, BC Wildfire Service photos

On the eve of the B.C. Day long weekend, the province is urging the public to be extra vigilant in preventing new fires as the BC Wildfire Service battles more than a dozen major fires in the province.

The public notice comes after Environment Canada reported more than 30,000 lightning strikes across the province Wednesday night. 

"The men and women of the BC Wildfire Service are working long hours in sometimes very difficult conditions, so I'm asking everyone to do their part to prevent wildfires and not add to their workload," said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in a media release Thursday.

The month of August is generally the most active part of B.C.'s wildfire season. Human-caused fires are preventable and unnecessarily divert crucial firefighting resources from naturally occurring wildfires.

From April 1 through Aug. 1, 2018, the BC Wildfire Service responded to 1,260 wildfires throughout B.C., 27% of which were caused by people.

The Southeast Fire Centre saw more than 25 new wildfires since August 1, many in the Columbia area around Revelstoke. The largest in the centre is the Whitetail Creek just outside of Kootenay National Park, approximately 40 kilometres north of Radium Hot Springs. The fire has force the closure of Highway 93, between Radium Hot Springs and Castle Junction, AB, on the TransCanada Highway west of Banff, AB.

In the West Kootenay/Boundary region, approximately 10 wildfires are burning — the two largest the Lightning Creek fire burning in the mountains east of Salmo and north of the Kootenay Pass and the Blacktail Mountain wildfire near Kokanee Glacier Park — forcing Environment Canada to issue a Special air quality statement for most of the Southern Interior, including Boundary, West Kootenay, East Kootenay and Kootenay Lake.

The Snowy Mountain wildfire visible from Keremeos and Cawston on Highway 3 is now the largest in the province at more than 6,600 hectares (66 square kilometres) in size.

Donaldson reminds drone operators, recreational boaters and users of other types of watercraft to stay clear of areas where firefighting aircraft are operating. Interference with their efforts could have deadly consequences and result in large fines, or even jail time, for those involved.

"When airtankers or helicopters are working around wildfires or picking up water from nearby lakes, they need lots of room to manoeuvre," said Donaldson. "People who get in the way pose a serious safety risk for the air crews and anyone else in the area. They also cause delays in getting fires under control."

Campfires are currently banned everywhere in British Columbia except within the Prince George Fire Centre's jurisdiction. In those areas where campfires are still allowed, people are urged to use caution and remain vigilant. Information about open burning prohibitions in effect is available on the BC Wildfire Service website: www.gov.bc.ca/wildfirebans

Anyone found in contravention of an open-burning prohibition may be issued a violation ticket for $1,150, may be required to pay an administrative penalty of $10,000 or, if convicted in court, may be fined up to $100,000 and/or sentenced to one year in jail. If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible may be ordered to pay all firefighting and associated costs.

To report a wildfire or open-burning violation, call 1 800 663-5555 toll-free, or *5555 on a cellphone.

For up-to-date information on current wildfire activity, burning restrictions, road closures and air quality advisories, call 1 888 3-FOREST or visit: www.bcwildfire.ca

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The East Flank of the Snowy Mountain wildfire visible from Keremeos and Cawston on Highway 3. — BC Wildfire Service photo