Several fires in Cowichan Valley burning out of control after electrical storm

Crews from Coastal Fire Centre working to extinguish them

The Cowichan Valley and much of southern Vancouver Island were treated to a rare spectacle on Sunday evening as forked lightning danced across the skies and thunder shook buildings.

It’s believed the lightening sparked at least 30 spot fires in the region covered by the Coastal Fire Service, including one near Lake Cowichan at Meade Creek and one near the Sooke reservoir.

The CFS’s Dorthe Jakobsen said, as of Tuesday morning, the fire at Meade Creek was considered out of control and covered six hectares.

She said 17 firefighters, two helicopters and two fire-fighting machines on the ground were tackling the blaze.

“That fire is on an incline so there is significant access and safety issues related to rolling debris,” she said.

“For those reasons, it will likely take firefighters a little longer to get in under control.”

Jakobsen said the fire at near the Sooke reservoir covered eight hectares as of Tuesday morning and was also considered out of control.

RELATED STORY: B.C. TEEN’S HORSE KILLED BY LIGHTNING IN WEEKEND THUNDERSTORM

She said fire crews had been assigned to it, but was unable to provide specifics.

Jakobsen said a fire on Mount Healey that covered four hectares as of Tuesday morning, as well as much smaller fires, most under an acre, near Reinhart Lake (Cowichan Lake area), Reinhart Creek (Cowichan Lake area), McGee Creek (Shawnigan Lake) and Holland Lake (Cowichan Lake area), were all considered out of control as of Tuesday morning.

“We have a total of five unit crews, each consisting of 20 firefighters, 20 three-person initial attack crews, two four-man rappel firefighting crews, 17 helicopters and two contract crews assisting to help put out all the approximately 30 fires that are now burning in the area of the Coastal Fire Centre, and we assign them to the fires based on priority,” she said.

“Safety to humans is the first priority, and then location and terrain. We’re trying our best to get to them quick and get them under control. The picture is still evolving and changing, and there may yet be more fires related to the electrical storm as some may be just smoldering and could still escalate. There is rain in the forecast for later in the week and that should help with the fires.”

Environment Canada said approximately 1,600 lightning strikes occurred across southern Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the western parts of the Lower Mainland during the storm, which began Sunday evening and ended early Monday morning.

Meteorologist Armel Castellan acknowledged that electrical storms of such intensity are rare for this area.

He said the storm occurred due to instability in the atmosphere as the high-pressure ridge of warm air that caused the weekend’s heat wave began to break down, which caused lot of buildup of energy in the lower atmosphere.

Castellan said as the higher levels in the atmosphere cooled, the destabilization caused high-level thunderstorm clouds to develop.

He said the resulting storm wasn’t technically one with dry lightning, which occurs when the lower atmosphere is dry and precipitation evaporates before it reaches the ground, as many communities on the southern portion of Vancouver Island had some showers, although not as heavy as seen in many other electrical storms in the area.

“It was a pretty rare event, and it did cause some fires,” Castellan said.

“The weather system that broke down and caused the electrical storm broke some heat records, but while temperatures in North Cowichan were recorded at 33.7 C at their highest on Sunday afternoon, we haven’t had weather stations there long enough to determine if that was a record. But the temperature in Lytton, located in the interior, hit 41.2 C on Sunday, which was a record for that community.”

RELATED STORY: PUMPS NOT NEEDED ON THE COWICHAN RIVER THIS YEAR

Castellan said it’s expected that temperatures in the Valley will become more seasonal, between 22-24 C, as the week progresses, and showers are forecast for late Thursday into Friday.

“We’re getting back to a wetter weather pattern, but we won’t likely see an enormous amount of rain,” he said.

“The average rain for the Valley in August is about 30 millimetres and we’ve had about 12 so far. We expect to see another 10 to 12 millimetres by the end of the week so we’re already getting close to the average precipitation this month. Last year, we received only about eight millimetres for the whole month.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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