132 new fire starts

UPDATE: 12:50 p.m.

With at least 50 new fire starts in the Cariboo region Tuesday, largely from lightning strikes, memories of last season's devastating wildfire season in the area come to mind. But the BC Wildfire Service says we're in better shape than last year.

The 2017 fire season really kicked off in the province from July 6 to July 8, when 190 fires were sparked by lightning in the province, the majority within the Cariboo Fire Centre. 

"Conditions last year in that three-day period were in some cases record breaking, but very prime for very quick, aggressive fire activity. Conditions have been a bit different this year," said fire information officer Ryan Turcot.

"One big difference between this year and last year, was throughout the month of June, we actually saw a decent amount of precipitation this year ... the June rains really set the stage for how dry or wet the forest fuels are going into the core summer months."

While things may not be as bad as they were last year, the forests are still tinder-dry across much of the province.

"Certainly, looking back to last week, we saw nothing but hot and dry temperatures – and that's really what drove up the fire danger rating to the high and extreme that we're seeing now," Turcot said. 

ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.

Lightning storms sweeping across British Columbia sparked 132 small fires on Tuesday alone, with more unstable weather in the forecast for Wednesday.

BC Wildfire service spokesman Ryan Turcot says at least 50 of the fires were recorded in the Cariboo region, the area hardest hit by last year's record-breaking fire season.

The fire danger rating is listed as high to extreme over most of the province and Turcot says more widespread lighting is forecast across the Cariboo and other parts of the province are also at risk.

Evacuation alerts have been issued for separate wildfires burning east and west of Quesnel in central B.C., while the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has expanded an evacuation alert to cover nearly 500 properties in the Keremeos and Cawston areas.

Highway 93 has been closed between Radium and the Alberta boundary by a small wildfire burning just off the road but a detour is possible and the travellers website DriveBC says the route could reopen within hours.

Turcot says several of B.C.'s wildfires were extremely active Tuesday, driven by high winds, and he urges everyone to use extreme caution.

"We are dealing with a lot of new lightning-driven activity. The last thing we need right now is human-caused fires to divert critical resources away from the fires we are responding to right now," he says.

Cooler weather and some rain is in the forecast for the upcoming long weekend, but Turcot calls the shift a double-edged sword.

"When you get instability, you also get a little bit more wind and wind can drive fire activity as well."

The wildfire service has recorded 1,085 wildfires since the season began on April 1, burning nearly 680-square kilometres of woodland.

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