A helicopter drops water on the Christie Mountain wildfire along Skaha Lake in Penticton, B.C. on Thursday. Firefighters could see winds gusting to 70 km/h today, making fighting the fire even more difficult than it has been up to now. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Firefighters face new challenges in battle to control B.C. blazes

Firefighters in British Columbia’s southern Okanagan now face a new challenge as they attempt to bring the stubborn–and raging--Christie Mountain wildfire under control.

They are bracing for a change in wind and weather that has the potential to drive the fire–now measuring 20-square kilometres, or 2,000 hectares–north toward the outskirts of the city of Penticton where nearly 3,800 properties have been on evacuation alert since Tuesday.

Meteorologists say the southerly winds of 20 to 40 km/h, could gust up to 70 km/h.

Flames and smoke are seen from the Christie Mountain wildfire along Skaha Lake near Penticton, B.C. Thursday. Wildfires in the area have forced several thousand people to be on evacuation alert. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Scattered thunderstorms are predicted, as well.

Up to now, the firefighters, who have been battling the blaze for three days, have been hampered by difficult, rocky, sloped terrain making access difficult for ground crews, as well as record-breaking temperatures that rose to 37.5C in Penticton on Tuesday, a 57-year record.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says it is increasing the number of teams capable of setting up sprinkler systems to protect more of the hundreds of homes lying in the possible path of the fire.

Officials said Thursday a specialized incident management team was being assembled to handle the fire, with members from across B.C. expected to begin arriving in Penticton today.

The fire has already destroyed one home in Heritage Hills while 319 properties in the community have been evacuated.

Boaters enjoy Skaha Lake as the Christie Mountain wildfire burns in the background in Penticton, B.C. on Thursday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Meanwhile, in the Regional District of East Kootenay, in southeastern B.C., a four-square kilometre wildfire burning west of Canal Flats exploded to 30-square kilometres in size on Thursday, but it’s not immediately threatening more properties, with just 10 on evacuation order.

The fire, known as the Doctor Creek Wildfire, was discovered Tuesday and ten properties were ordered to evacuate the next day,.

The BCWS said Thursday “good progress” was being made on the flanks of the 18-hectare fire closest to homes to the properties.

Elsewhere, residents of a development on Lillooet Lake, north of Vancouver, were ordered out of their homes because heavy rain, coupled with a wildfire on the steep hills above their properties

Officials said the combination had the potential to cause a damaging debris flow or cut the only road to the area.

Of the 544 fires recorded since April in B.C., more than one quarter (151) have been sparked in the last week--with dozens the result of a lightning storm Sunday that saw 1,600 lightning strikes hit the South Coast and Central Interior. 

Almost three dozen of the current fires are listed as “out of control.”

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press

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