Canada wildfires: Cooler conditions bring hope as ‘epic’ blazes rage on

Parts of southern California face flash flooding and mudslides as Storm Hilary unleashes record-breaking downpours

Wildfires ravaging Canada’s British Columbia province are showing some signs of easing and weather conditions were expected to improve through Monday into Tuesday, though crews were still battling “epic” blazes, emergency officials said.

More than 35,000 people have been driven out of their homes in recent days as flames spread in the western region, forcing the federal government to deploy the military.

Blazes are also raging further north as Canada reels from its worst wildfire season on record, which many experts have blamed on climate change. Other fires, exacerbated by severe drought, have been reported closer to the US border and in the US Pacific Northwest.

British Columbia, which sits on Canada's Pacific coast, could get some rains this week from Tropical Storm Hilary, which hit California on Sunday, forecasters have said.


Jerrad Schroeder, deputy manager at the Kamloops Fire Centre, said late on Sunday he was expecting “really good” firefighting conditions over the next 24-36 hours with temperatures down in the mid-20 degrees and humidity rising.

The air quality index in many fire-affected areas – including Central Okanagan, Eastern Fraser Valley, Kamloops – hit above 10 on Monday, signalling a high risk, the British Columbia government said.

About 140,000sq km of land have been scorched nationwide, with smoky haze extending as far as the US east coast. Canadian government officials project that the fire season could stretch into autumn because of widespread drought-like conditions.

About 2,000 km to the north, a wildfire burning out of control in Yellowknife, the capital of Northwest Territories (NWT), has turned the remote city into a smoky, ghost town with almost all the of its 20,000 residents evacuated.

Some 400 armed forces personnel are helping the NWT government deal with the fire, Canada’s Department of National Defence said on Sunday. Fires continued to burn about 15km from Yellowknife and it was unclear when they would reach the city, officials said.

Jason Brolund, fire chief of West Kelowna in British Columbia, one of the areas worst affected by the fires, said conditions had improved, which was helping firefighters to put “boots on the ground”.

“We haven’t been challenged with extraordinary fire behaviour. We are dealing with things like we are used to seeing. However, we are dealing with them on an epic scale,” Mr Brolund told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Meanwhile, parts of southern California and the US southwest on Monday faced the threat of flash flooding along with landslides and mudslides after Storm Hilary unleashed record-breaking downpours overnight.

Some 17 million Americans were under flood and high-wind advisories, watches and warnings as remnants of the storm moved north, dumping heavy rains from the California-Mexico border up through Las Vegas and into parts of the northwest, the US National Weather Service said.

One of the hardest hit communities has been Palm Springs, California, where video footage posted on social media showed flooded streets and debris flows. Mayor Grace Garner told CNN the city’s 911 emergency system was knocked out by the storm.

“Right now we have flooding on all of our roads. There’s no way in or out of Palm Springs, and that’s the case for the majority of the Coachella Valley. We’re all stuck,” she said.

A steady rain fell on Monday morning in many parts of the region, where record-breaking downpours had already fallen. Hilary was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone overnight. – Reuters