Rain brings relief for crews fighting B.C. wildfires, but not enough to help long-term

By Cole Schisler and The Canadian Press

Parts of B.C. have been getting some rain over the past few days, which fire crews say have helped areas of the province.

But Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston said in an update Wednesday that the incoming rain will only help in the short-term.

“Given the longer impacts of drought in British Columbia, it will not take long for any of these forests that receive rain, to dry out once again,” he said.

Cliff Chapman with the BC Wildfire Service adds that the rain just won’t be enough.

“We need sustained rainfall, really through the month of June, and ideally as we start to trend into July and August as well, we have not seen sustained rainfall in this province since we went snow-free,” he said.

Meanwhile, it looks like the rain won’t be reaching one part of the province that needs it, as crews continue to battle the massive Donnie Creek wildfire.

The fire is now threatening a key highway — the Alaska Highway — which connects Yukon and northern B.C. to the rest of the province.

The Peace River Regional District has posted an evacuation alert for a section of the Alaska Highway as out-of-control flames creep within two kilometres.

If the 4,875-square-kilometre blaze cuts the highway, residents north of Fort Nelson could face a more than 1,700-kilometre detour via highways 37 and 16, if they need to travel south by main roads.

Little rain from recent storms reached the Donnie Creek blaze Tuesday, but downpours around Dawson Creek calmed the nearly 200-square-kilometre Kiskatinaw wildfire, which remains out of control and within a few kilometres of the community of Tumbler Ridge, which was evacuated six days ago.

The BC Wildfire Service reports more than 80 active wildfires across the province, with 37 ranked as out of control, including those in the northeast and another on Vancouver Island, east of Port Alberni.

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The Island fire has charred just over two square kilometres of trees on steep hillside above the only highway linking Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet to the rest of the region, and officials say safety concerns will keep Highway 4 closed until at least June 24.

A lengthy and challenging detour is being used to allow people and supplies to reach the stranded communities, but the narrow route is only meant to be used for essential travel.

Environment Canada has posted air quality statements for northeastern B.C., in the Fort Nelson, Peace River and Prince George regions, advising that wildfire smoke will blanket those areas for at least the next day or two.

The Chief of the Doig River First Nation near Fort Nelson said the Donnie Creek fire has claimed a handful of trapline cabins and his members are working to protect others.

Chief Trevor Makadahay said Tuesday that his community is as ready as it can be to evacuate if winds push flames from the north.

Residents, especially elders, are staying indoors and using air purifiers to cope with the heavy smoke blanketing the area, he said.

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