(Black Press files)

Anticipated rain a ‘wildcard’ for B.C.’s wildfires

Fire officials unsure how rain will affect the 126 fires in the southern Interior until it arrives

After nearly two months of tinder-dry weather, the B.C. communities hit hardest by wildfires could be seeing a bit of rain this weekend.

Environment Canada is forecasting a chance of scattered showers along the coast and into the southern Interior and Cariboo.

But BC Wildfire Service chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek said exactly how the wet weather will affect the 126 active fires in the region won’t be known until the rain arrives.

The rain is forecast to come with wind, which could be problematic for crews battling more volatile fires – such as Elephant Hill burning at 117,000 hectares in size near Clinton and the Chilcotin fire complex.

“Rain is a real wild card to try and forecast this far out,” Skrepnek said Wednesday.

Then there’s the chance of the upcoming rain turning to thunderstorms with lightning, which has been the culprit behind about 70 per cent of wildfires in 2017.

“Whether [the rain’s] a help or a hindrance remains to be seen,” he said. “Certainly though, getting some rain on these fires would be welcome but if we’re getting this unstable weather with it it might be a bit of a mixed blessing.”

Weather forecasts suggest the rain will begin Saturday on the coast, with scattered showers in areas of the Cariboo and southern Interior through to Sunday, when weather is expected to remain at cooler temperatures.

Until then, back country areas remained off-limits to the public and off-roading bans also remain in effect.

How much rain is enough rain?

In July, a day of rain in Williams Lake had offered a glimmer of hope for the then-evacuated city.

RELATED: It’s raining in Williams Lake, but not for long

The next day the BC Wildfire Service reported 32 more fires were caused by lightning in the Cariboo and Kamloops fire regions.

At the time, Environment Canada meteorologist Cindy Yu said short spurts of rainfall allows for a break in the heat but aren’t enough to make a real difference on larger wildfires burning.