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B.C. heat wave increases concerns over forest fire risk

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VANCOUVER - A provincewide heat wave in British Columbia was expected to hit record highs in the coming days, heightening concerns about wildfires.

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch said Saturday there were 45 wildfires across the province, with three fires expected to take days to put out.

"The hot, dry weather has definitely been a concern," said Navi Saini, a spokeswoman for the agency. "It's definitely hindering fire-suppression efforts."

In northern B.C., near the Alberta border, 120 firefighters and 11 helicopters are battling a 45-square-kilometre blaze close to Tumbler Ridge that was sparked last Sunday.

Saini said there have been no casualties, but an evacuation order has been issued to 200 people in three nearby oil and gas camps.

Forty-one firefighters and six helicopters are trying to put out a four-square-kilometre fire near Quesnel, in the North Cariboo region which started Tuesday.

Twenty firefighters are battling a 10-square-kilometre blaze in north B.C. near Williston Lake that started Thursday.

Saini said fires outside the province could spark smoke warnings for B.C.

"We have several large fires burning in the Northwest Territories, and just the way the wind's been blowing, there have been smoke reports in many areas of the province," she said.

Smoke from a fire burning in Banff National Park, in Alta.,is drifting into the Kootenays, she said.

Environment Canada said temperatures are expected to hit record highs in parts of the province this weekend.

David Wray, a meteorologist with the agency, said temperatures in the southern half of the province appear to be 10 to 11 C above normal for the time of year.

Wray said it is 8 to 10 C above normal for the northern half of B.C. where temperatures will likely break records next week.

Temperatures are averaging at 30 C or more provincewide.

Wray said it is important to wear sunscreen this weekend because it will only take about 15 minutes for skin to get burned.

He said children or pets should not be left in cars, and people should drink plenty of water.

Dave Lefebvre of Vancouver Coastal Health, one of the Lower Mainland's health authorities, said there has not been any word from one of its main hospitals of increases in patients suffering from heatstroke.

The authority is urging people to limit outdoor activity to the early morning and evening.

It is also asking people to check in on those unable to leave their homes and ask for medical help if required.

Aletta Vanderheyden of Fraser Health, another health authority in the Lower Mainland, said there were no reports of increases in heatstroke among patients in 12 of its hospitals.

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