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 27 comments on “What You Need to Know About Travelling During BC Wildfires”

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    • 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
  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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