Firefighters prepare for lightning and high winds in the southern interior as storms loom

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Residents of the community of Olalla in British Columbia are now allowed to return home after being forced out by a threatening wildfire last week.

But a severe thunderstorm that swept across the south of the province on Wednesday sparked many new fires, with Environment Canada warning that more storms were on the way.

On Thursday, severe thunderstorms blanketed the interior of British Columbia from Prince George south to the US border.

BC Wildfire Service information officer Karley Desrosiers said forecasts of lightning, gusty winds and high temperatures could make fighting the fires difficult.

But crews had plans in place to fight any new fires that could result from lightning, she told a news conference.

The BC Wildfire Service website showed spot fires caused by lightning Wednesday dotting Coastal, Kamloops, Southeast and Cariboo fire centers, including 10 starts on Vancouver Island, but all remaining small.

Desrosiers said lightning is normal in July and August in parts of British Columbia, especially when temperatures warm and there is more humidity in the air.

“We haven’t had as much lightning as last year,” she said. “It was a banner year for lightning.”

Environment Canada has issued heat warnings for the Fraser Canyon, northern Thompson and interior sections of the North and Central Coast as temperatures of 30-30 degrees are expected to continue through Friday in the interior .

The weather bureau said thunderstorms forecast for Thursday were likely to bring winds gusting to 80 kilometers per hour, conditions the wildfire department said could complicate work on the blaze that threatened Olalla.

The fire is located 21 kilometers southwest of Penticton and has burned approximately 67 square kilometres.

The blaze remains uncontrolled, and while the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District has canceled nearly half of the approximately 500 evacuation orders covering properties closest to the blaze, 273 remain in place.

Nearly 400 properties are under evacuation alert, which means they must be ready to leave at all times.

The district said evacuation alerts for residents of the nearby village of Keremeos have been lifted, but the Apex Mountain resort and surrounding homes remain under evacuation orders.

“Winds will be light, but strong erratic and gusty winds should be expected near thunderstorms,” the wildfire department said in its daily update.

“Crews were therefore instructed to prepare for increased fire behavior and a change in direction of fire spread.”

The hill above the Trans-Canada Highway between Lytton and Spences Bridge was also inspected on Thursday after heavy rain from the first round of storms caused landslides that closed the road until further notice.

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