Lightning sparks more than a dozen wildfires on Vancouver Island

16 August 2020

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CANADA – An incredible lightning display across the South Island on Sunday night sparked at least 14 fires, including eight in the forests north and west of Sooke.

The dry lightning came with little moisture and after record-breaking weekend temperatures that left forests tinder dry, said Dorthe Jakobsen, spokeswoman for the B.C. Wildfire Service’s coastal region.

High temperatures are expected to continue until Thursday and the wildfire risk is considered extremely high.

Most of the fires, including blazes at Mount Healey and the Sooke Lake Reservoir area where Greater Victoria draws its water supply, were about one to four hectares in size on Monday afternoon. By late Monday, the Wildfire Service was reporting eight small wildfires around Sooke.

The Capital Regional District said residents may see smoke and air tankers in the vicinity while B.C. Wildfire and watershed protection crews “contain and supress two small wildfires” on a ridge top around the reservoir.

The CRD said there was no threat to water quality or infrastructure. “Multiple crews and aircraft are busy assessing,” a statement said. “Though smoke may be visible, the wildfires are currently small … the largest is four hectares.”

Initial response crews were travelling to the sites to assess the fires and fight them, Jakobsen said.

All of the new fires are south of Nanaimo, including a 2.5-hectare blaze at Meade Creek and four other fires north of Lake Cowichan, including Holland Lake. One of the blazes is close to Laketown Ranch in Youbou, site of the Laketown Shakedown music festival. The owners were on high alert as the fire was only about six kilometres away.

A lightning strike is believed to be the cause of a blaze near Muir Creek, west of Sooke, while there is a fire of unknown cause near Shirley. Lightning also sparked a blaze in a remote area of the San Juan Valley and the Bear Creek Reservoir north of Jordan River.

Several mid-Island fire departments worked on dousing a small brush fire in the Ladysmith area that was reported Sunday.

The fire is in a forested area near where Oyster Sto’Lo Road and the Trans-Canada Highway meet. The fire is believed to be a minor one, as the affected area of the forest is estimated less than one hectare.

“If it went unmanaged, of course it could become something significant,” said Mike Primrose of Ladysmith Volunteer Fire Department. “But they were on it pretty quick.”

The North Cedar Fire Department, Ladysmith Volunteer Fire Department, and the B.C. Wildfire Service all responded to the mutual-aid call.

Jakobsen said attack crews from the North Island, where there are no new fires, could be called south if the fires grow in size.

Environment Canada estimates there were about 1,600 lightning strikes across the province over the 12-hour period starting at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said there have been 415 fires across B.C. since April, burning a total area of 910 hectares. That includes 76 fires in the coastal region scorching 272 hectares.

The forecast calls for several more days of high temperatures before a large weather system brings rainfall on Thursday and Friday through much of the southern areas of the province, Jakobsen said.

Heat warnings remained in place Monday night for the Fraser Canyon, as well as the Okanagan, North and South Thompson, Cariboo and 100 Mile regions.

Environment Canada said 13 temperature records were broken or tied across southern B.C. on Sunday. The Fraser Canyon community of Lytton was the hot spot in Canada at 41.2 C, which broke the old record of 40.4 set 12 years ago.

One Island location set a new record on Sunday. Estevan Point on the Hesquiat Peninsula on the Island’s west coast hit 23.7 C, slightly higher than the previous mark set in 2012.

— With a file from Mike Devlin
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