What You Need to Know About Travelling During BC Wildfires

bc wildfire, highways, blog, road safety
Highway webcams images showing smoky conditions, captured in August 2018. Clockwise from top left: Highway 27 south of Fort St James, Highway 97C north of Peachland, Highway 16 in Prince George at 9:50 am, Highway 16 in Houston.

As witnessed in recent years, wildfire season in BC can happen on a massive scale; cloaking the province with a gloomy shroud of smoke, making the air pungent and thick, and giving the sun an eerie blood orange tinge.

Wildfires can come precariously close to side roads and highways; sometimes roads are closed or with limited access, even more have very poor visibility.

That’s where we come in.

We want to share a few tips and resources to help you travel safely during wildfire season.

Down to brass tacks: Where can I travel?

>> BC wildfire impacts to highways, including closures and traffic restrictions, are available via DriveBC.

>> Impacts to highways and side roads are listed on one page via TranBC.

>> Impacts to forest service roads are here.

Smoky haze for days: Driving with poor visibility

Usually, it’s the wet, dreary winter months that make visibility challenging. But forest fires can create a summer “fog” that can dim the lights in a unique way. Sometimes day looks like night, other times it seems like we’re looking at the world through an Instagram filter.

Please remember these tips for seeing and being seen:

>> Turn on your headlights and tail lights. Ideally, we do this every time we’re behind the wheel, but it’s even more important in dark, hazy conditions. Don’t rely on the automatic headlights feature. Keep it simple, turn ‘em on.

>> Keep your eyes on the road, and avoid distractions. Again, this always applies, but the smoke is dramatically reducing stopping sight distances on the roads, reducing drivers’ reaction times.

>> Don’t gamble by passing on two-lane, two-way highways when long-range visibility is reduced. Wait for a truck climbing lane or other multilane section to pass.

>> Slow down. Remember: posted speed limits are for ideal conditions. A smoke screen is not ideal conditions.

>> Give more space to the vehicle ahead of you. Bad visibility can lead to abrupt stopping as reaction times are reduced. And let’s face it, no one likes a tailgater.

>> Top up your wiper fluid. That white stuff falling from the sky? Yeah, those are ashes, not snowflakes. Don’t let a dirty windshield make your view of the road worse.

>> If you have to pull over for any reason, make sure you are completely off the road with hazard lights flashing.

>> Only drive if you feel well enough to do so. Forest fire smoke is a mix of gases and small particles that can irritate the respiratory system, and the poor air quality is affecting some people’s health more than others. If you feel exhausted, dizzy, or impacted in any way that could reduce your ability to drive, best not to get behind the wheel. Here’s more information from the BC Centre for Disease Control about how to protect yourself from poor air quality.

bc wildfire, wildfire, peachland, highway 97
Crews battle a wildfire near Antlers Beach Regional Park on BC Hwy 97 near Peachland.

Extreme weather events, such as wildfires, may be the “new normal” in a world undergoing significant climate change,  but life goes on, which means goods are still flowing and people continue to travel. Let this be clear: safety is our biggest concern. Closures will continue on highways and roads deemed too hazardous for travel. It’s important to keep informed about road conditions, closures and restrictions, and adapt our driving behaviour to stay safe despite the smoke.

If you spot a wildfire, please report it to the BC Wildfire Service at *5555 (a map of active wildfires is available). Residents of areas impacted directly by wildfires can view a list of community and regional district evacuation orders, alerts and rescinds at EmergencyInfoBC.

Do you have any wildfire season travelling tips worth sharing? Please do – there’s a comment section below.

Page 1 of 73 comments on “What You Need to Know About Travelling During BC Wildfires”

Leave a Comment

    • Hello Moira,

      Thanks for your message. We have just sent a PDF copy of the Rest Area Map to the email address you provided here.

      Safe travels!

      Reply
    • Hi Amanda – sorry for the delay. This page is only monitored during regular business hours. We hope you found your way home safely and recommend that you use the DriveBC.ca website to help you navigate and road events that might cause delays. Safe travels!

      Reply
  1. I am in Saskatchewan visiting family. I left in late July. I need to return to Chilliwack for work on August 27. Because I need to return to work is my travel essential?

    Reply
    • Hi there Danette,

      Thanks for checking with us here. We are currently only asking that folks don’t travel to the interior of the province for recreational activities. Your trip home falls outside this and is fine. Please check DriveBC.ca before you leave, in order to get the most up to date information on any issues that might impact your travel before you head out. Safe travels.

      Reply
  2. Hello, I am from out of province trying to get across BC to visit my daughter on Vancouver Island next week. I’m bringing my small travel trailer but plan to go directly to the Island and wasn’t sure if that is permitted at this time.

    Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for checking in with us here. Travel through wildfire impacted areas is allowed. We are trying to discourage recreational travel to those areas being hard hit by wildfire at this time. Please check DriveBC.ca before your trip to get a better sense of travel advisories, closures and delays and consider using alternate routes (around the Okanagan) if possible. Hope this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
    • Hello Ahmed – thanks for your message. DriveBC.ca is where you can go to get all the details of the closures and delays on BC Highways due to wildfire. If a highway is unsafe for travel due to wildfire, we will close the highway and post detour information there as well. Hope this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
  3. What is “essential travel”? We are returning home to Penticton after a visit to the Lower Mainland. Is that essential travel?

    Reply
    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your message. Yes, travel home is fine. We are trying to discourage recreational travel to the interior in order to give communities and first responders the space and resources they need. Thanks for checking. Safe travels.

      Reply
  4. Hi I have family returning to Alberta tomorrow travelling from Vancouver island to Grande Prairie.

    Taking highway 1 from hope to Kamloops and highway 5 to Alberta boarder. Is this area safe to travel through stopping for fuel only.

    Reply
    • Hi Ruth,
      The travel conditions change regularly with the current wildfire situation. I’d recommend checking DriveBC.ca before they travel to have the latest information.

      Reply
    • Hi Darcy, unfortunately we can’t predict the future (wish we could). But I would recommend you check DriveBC.ca for the latest travel information right before you plan leave.

      Reply
    • Due to the continual wildfire situation and the current travel advisory to “Avoid non-essential travel to and from Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and Westbank First Nations lands (Central Okanagan Local Health Area)” due to COVID, it’s still not recommended.

      Reply
  5. Is a wedding considered “essential travel”? Have been planning for many months, keeping it small, am hoping to take Road 40 from Lillooet to Gold Bridge do you think this will be possible?

    Reply
  6. Hi….I’m travelling from kelowna to edmonton on the 22nd of August. Am I going to be impeaded by fires?? Which route would be the best way to go?

    Reply
    • Hi Linda, highway conditions can change so it’s very hard to predict what it will be, especially during wildfire season. Please go to DriveBC.ca closer to your date for the latest travel information so you’re best informed.

      Reply
  7. Travelling from kelowna to lillooet to staff Emergency Department can I travel north on #5, recommendation for route given fires?

    Reply
    • Hi Gord, DriveBC.ca is our 24/7 travel information resource. I’d recommend referring to that to best inform you before you travel.

      Reply
  8. We are planning to travel to Banff with a stop over in Salmon Arm. We are in a large motorhome. Are there any issues with travelling this route?

    Reply
    • Hi Victora, travel conditions can change. Please check our 24/7 resource DriveBC.ca for the latest up to date travel information.

      Reply
  9. Hello
    I have a trip planned to Kelowna next week. Should I cancel? I ma having a hard time finding a definitive answer to if we are allowed to travel there. We will be staying in Kelowna, not driving around.

    Reply
  10. I’m driving to Surrey from Manitoba august 16. Will I be ok to do that? This is my first time driving through the mountains.

    Reply
    • Hey there Rita – thanks for your message. We encourage you to visit our traveller info tool, DriveBC.ca before you leave and whenever you can safely do so during your trip, to get a better idea of what to expect on BC highways when you get here. Give yourself plenty of time to travel, so you don’t have to rush, pack water and food in your car in case you are delayed. Given the large amount of wildfire activity in the province this year, you should also expect smoky conditions during your drive and added volume on our highways due to wildfire detours. Safe travels!

      Reply
  11. I will be travelling from Vancouver to Castlegar on Tuesday, Aug 17 using highway 3. Are there any closures of highway 3 due to Garrison Lake fire and Nk’Meep Creek fire? Can I stay safely in Osoyoos?

    Reply
    • Hello Barbara,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. Unfortunately, given the dynamic and unpredictable nature of wildfire, we aren’t able to say what the wildfire conditions impacting highways will be on that date. We encourage you to check DriveBC.ca closer to your travel time, to get a sense of what the situation is and plan accordingly. We have also created a webpage listing wildfires which are impacted by wildfire here: http://www.tranbc.ca

      Safe travels.

      Reply
  12. Hi there,
    My daughter, partner and their 14 month old were evacuated from their Falkland home and currently staying in a hotel in Vernon. I want to travel from Langley to Vernon to go help my family. I would head through the connector and into Kelowna way. Is there any road closures and if I should be going?
    Thankyou

    Reply
  13. looking to travel to red deer alberta from the lower mainland was hoping to take Hwy 5 up thru barrier , clearwater and then down to sask river crossing i dont see any closures on this route at this time will check again before leave sunday 5 am

    Reply
    • Hi Marilyn – thanks for your message. DriveBC and the BC Wildfire Service are your best sources of info for wildfires and any impacts to highway travel as a result of wildfire. We hope are having a safe journey!

      Reply
  14. Hi there,
    We are travelling tomorrow to Invermere area and staying there for a couple of days. We understand that the smoke is an issue although there aren’t any fires in the area. Will there be closures of highway 93 into this area and will the thunder storm clear some of the smokiness in air quality?

    Reply
    • Hello Anthony – thanks for connecting with us here. We are not sure when you are planning your travel and given the unpredictable nature of wildfires, we can’t say with any certainty what conditions you will experience on your journey in advance. We strongly suggest you continue to check DriveBC.ca as often (before you leave and as often as you can during your trip), to be in the know. Give yourself plenty of time to travel and make sure you have water, gas and food on hand in case you are stopped unexpectedly. Safe travels.

      Reply
  15. My daughter is driving from the Fraser Valley to Salmon Arm tonight after work & then carrying on to Banff in the morning. We’ve been checking Drive BC and the BC Wildfires websites but it’s hard to determine what would be a ‘smoky drive’ versus what will be an ‘unsafe drive’.
    Would you say overall “it is safe for her to travel with her taking appropriate precautions & preparations” or would you say ”it is un-advisable for her to be travelling this route at this time”?
    *(She will be taking hwy #1 thru Fraser Valley, then North on Coquihalla, then across to Alberta via hwy #1 again).

    Reply
    • Hi there Nicholas – thanks for connecting with us here. Sorry for the delay in this response – this page is only monitored during regular business hours. We hope your daughter found her way safely to her destination. DriveBC.ca is your best bet for up to the minute road condition information. If a route is dangerous to travel, we will close it until it is safe to reopen or post a travel advisory outlining impacts to travel and post that event on DriveBC.ca. We hope this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
  16. Hi, we are planning to drive from Kelowna to Vancouver at 6am tomorrow morning…is there any road closures en route to be mindful of?
    Thank you for your feedback

    Reply
    • Hi there Elzane – sorry for the delay in this response – this page is only monitored during regular business hours. Given the unpredictable nature of wildfires, we can’t say with any certainty what conditions you will experience on your journey in advance. We strongly suggest you continue to check DriveBC.ca as often (before you leave and as often as you can during your trip), to be in the know. Give yourself plenty of time to travel and make sure you have water, gas and food on hand in case you are stopped unexpectedly. If a road is closed due to wildfire that closure and any detour information will be posted on DriveBC. Safe travels.

      Reply
    • Hello Pat,

      Any area which is under evacuation alert needs to be prepared to leave at a moments notice under an evacuation order. As such, it is strongly recommended that you do not travel into an area under an evacuation alert. We hope that this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
  17. Hi ,We are plan travel to Vancouver & Vancouver island in this Wednesday 28th true Vernon . so is there any road closure?

    Reply
    • Hello and thank you for your comment. Given the unpredictable nature of wildfires – we are unable to predict if and how they will be impacting your travel on Wednesday. We have created a wildfire advisory page – listing highways impacted by wildfire and at this time, Highway 97A, south of Sicamous is CLOSED between 5 km north of Enderby to Sicamous. You might want to plan your route around this closure.

      Please note this page is not updated 24/7 and you should refer to DriveBC.ca for up to the minute information on any conditions which might impact your travels. DriveBC.ca is the authority on current closures. We hope that this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
  18. What are the driving rules if the highway you need to drive on runs through an area that is now on alert?

    I am looking at driving from lower mainland to Penticton….

    Reply
    • Good afternoon Cindy,

      Our staff in wildfire impacted areas are working closely with emergency crews. If a wildfire threatens highway travel, or if it is deemed unsafe in any way for travellers to move through the area, our staff will close the highway and that closure will be posted on DriveBC. We encourage you to check DriveBC for the most up to date information. We hope that this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
  19. Hi we r in revelstoke n going back to airdrie…is it safe to go through highway 1 or is there any road closure…..I have two little kids

    Reply
    • Hi there Preet – thanks for your question. DriveBC.ca is the best source of incident and closure information for BC highways. At this moment (8:34 am on Friday, July 23) there are no closures on BC highway 1 due to wildfire. Please note that there is construction east of Golden at Kicking Horse Canyon which might cause delays. We hope this is helpful.
      https://www.drivebc.ca/#listView

      Reply
    • Hi Joyce – thanks for your comment. DriveBC.ca is our traveller information system and the best source of information on closures and events. At this time we can’t see any closures due to wildfire on Highway 93 or Highway 1 but given the dynamic nature of wildfire – this could change at any time and we encourage you to check DriveBC as often as possible.

      https://www.drivebc.ca/#listView

      Please note there is construction underway with intermittent closures on Highway 1 east of Golden at Kicking Horse Canyon which might cause some delay.

      Safe travels!
      Safe travels.

      Reply
  20. Planning a trip from Cranbrook to Vancouver tomorrow July 22 Need to catch the 6:00 pm ferry to Victoria. Will there be delays due to wild fires?

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,

      At this time Highway 3 looks clear however you should expect increased traffic on all BC highways due to detours from wildfires. Give yourself plenty of travel time and be prepared for delays. Wildfires are unpredictable and the situation could change rapidly. Check DriveBC.ca (use the plan your route feature) to get a sense of what is happening on your planned route before you go and try to check DriveBC as often as you can during your trip. Safe travels.

      Reply
  21. I am traveling down south from Prince George to Vancouver, leaving at around 5pm, that should bring me to Lytonn and 100 mile areas at around 11pm ish. Am i safe to travel through with my little toddler and wife expecting.

    Reply
    • Hello Frank – thanks for reaching out here.

      At this time, Highway 1 is CLOSED between Hope and Spences Bridge to support firefighting operations. Detour via Highway 5 (Coquihalla).

      DriveBC is also reporting the following conditions for Highway 97 around 100 Mile House:

      Travel advisory in effect between Big Bar Rd and 94 Mile Frtg for 54.2 km (5 km south of 100 Mile House to 7 km north of Clinton). Limited visibility with smoke due to a wildfire. Road is open to traffic. Future closures possible with very limited notice. Watch for smoke, Drive to conditions Speed 80km advised.

      DriveBC.ca is your best bet for up to the moment information and we encourage you to check it wherever possible during your trip.

      We hope that this is helpful. Safe travels.

      Reply
    • Hello again Frank – looks like Highway 97 was closed overnight due to wildfire. We hope you found your way through or around this area in your travels last night. Safe travels.

      Reply
  22. driving from Grande Prairie to Richmond BC on july 28th. Quite nervous about the possible closures as i will not have an internet connection to check for updates,just my gps. i suppose stopping at every town hoping for wifi is my best bet!

    Reply
    • Hi Anj – checking your planned route via DriveBC.ca before you leave and as often as possible is your best bet. Any major routes with closures or detours in place will also have messaging via our overhead message boards, roadside message boards. We’ve also created an emergency advisory page for areas with roads impacted by wildfire here: https://www.tranbc.ca/current-wildfire-advisories/

      Don’t forget to pack extra food and water in case you are delayed. Safe travels!

      Reply
  23. Evacuating a family on Monday to the Lower Mainland. Already watching the no so up to date fire map. What fires of concern along hwy 5 south from Blue River to Hope? Can we expect clear sailing in both directions in light of our errand of mercy?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  24. Thank you for the up to date info and tips. Traveling this Friday on the following route: Tok, Alaska- whitehorse – Watson lake – fort Nelson – grand prairie – Airdrie – Great Falls Montana. Not seeing any closures on that route at the moment, anything I am missing?

    Reply
  25. I am going through British Columbia from Alaska…to Dawson Creek and then down 97 through Prince George and continuing to the US border. I have two dogs who have their papers good until August 30… I leave Skagway on August 25. First is the road open and second do I need to anticipate delays

    Reply