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Farmers along lower Fraser River prepare for flooding

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NICOMEN ISLAND—Farmers along the banks of the lower Fraser River were preparing for possible flooding Wednesday as water levels on the iconic river continued to rise.

On Barnston Island, located between Pitt Meadows and Surrey B.C., farmers moved livestock to safer ground after Metro Vancouver officials issued an evacuation alert for the island that morning. Further east, on Nicomen Island just outside of Mission, dairy farmer Sydney Stoker was hopeful he wouldn’t have to do the same.

“It’s a stronger possibility than I would like,” he said.

The Mission gauge, one of several locations where the Fraser River levels are monitored, was at 5.7 metres on Wednesday morning and officials expect it could reach six metres by Friday and 6.6 metres by the middle of next week.

Floodwaters continue to rise elsewhere in the province as well, including in Grand Forks in south-central B.C., where extreme flooding has forced thousands from their homes and local officials have called on the federal government to send in the army to assist worn out emergency responders.

The province has committed to match donations to the Red Cross up to $20 million to help those affected by the flooding.

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan and MLAs from all three parties toured areas already affected or at risk of flooding in the Fraser Valley.

“We stand together united to make sure that we leave no stone unturned, no sandbag unfilled and whatever resources are needed we all commit to make sure that they’re there for the people in the region,” Horgan told reporters.

While there is a higher degree of confidence that the region will not experience the same level of flooding seen at other periods in the last 70 years, risk remains as higher-than-normal temperatures could continue to force a rapid melt of the snowpack. Any rain could pose a further challenge.

On Nicomen Island, 72 of Stoker’s 177-acres are outside the dike system and he’s already seeing some flooding. With the Fraser River about to crest the bank he and his oldest son Matthew were scrambling to harvest as much grass feed as they could for their dairy cows Wednesday afternoon.

“This is the first time I’ve ever cut grass at 21 days,” Stoker said, standing on the banks of the river, eyes to his field. Normally, he’d wait until 28 days, but even waiting until Thursday it could be too late.

He’s already lost some of the crop from water seeping up through the ground. If the whole crop went under it would mean $20,000 to $30,000 in losses.

Stoker bought this farm in 1991. It flooded in 1997, in 1999, in 2007 and then again in 2012.

While the water levels were about eight inches from flooding the barn in 2007, he evacuated his cows just in case. He’s hopeful he won’t have to do it again, but it depends on the weather. If the temperatures stay a bit cooler that will help, but heavy rains could force his hand.

Stoker has roughly 160 cows in a barn outside dike protection and evacuating them carries its own set of risks, including injury.

“The biggest challenge is trying to do it in such a way that the animals don’t get too excited,” he said.

While most herds are well vaccinated, there’s always the risk of exposing his animals to disease if they’re mixed with another herd. It can also mean a drop in milk production.

In 2007 Stoker was able to move his herd to a property in Matsqui where another farmer had room. If he has to evacuate them this year, he’ll start by moving them to his land inside the dike.

But the dikes are substandard. The Fraser Valley Regional District has a $10.5 million grant to upgrade some of them on Nicomen Island but it would cost $100 million to get them all up to par.

If one of those dikes breached it would put their property inside the dike at risk too and leave them little time to get the cows out.

“Let’s put it this way, there would be a lot of cows making a trip across Deroche,” Stoker said.

At this point, Stoker is doing what he can to prepare for what’s to come and is hopeful this year’s freshet along the lower Fraser won’t be as bad as what’s happening elsewhere.

In south-central B.C., which has experienced the worst of the flooding so far, emergency response workers in Grand Forks are worn out and need help, said Roly Russell, the chair of the Kootenay Boundary Regional District.

“It’s awful what’s going on here,” Russell said. “We’re bearing with it, but people are exhausted.”

In total Russell estimates that roughly 100 homes have so far been lost for good to the flooding, with 3,000 people still under evacuation.

“The request (for military support) has gone up the chain of command. Hopefully someone on the other side of the country hears what we need,” Russell said.

Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank

Jesse Winter is an investigative reporter based in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @jwints

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Low visibility due to BC wildfires impacting flights at YLW

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The Kelowna International Airport (YLW) is advising travellers that flights are being impacted by low visibility.

The conditions are related to the many wildfires burning in B.C. right now, and the heavy smoke that is covering much of the province.

The YLW website shows some cancellations and delays this morning for flights coming from Seattle, U.S., Calgary, Toronto, Victoria, and Edmonton. Departures are also being affected at this time.

Passengers are being advised to check their flight status on their airline’s website or on the YLW website before arriving at the airport.

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Fire sparks in Peachland

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Castanet has received multiple tips of a wildfire that sparked in Peachland Sunday morning.

According to witnesses, the fire sparked just before 6 a.m. just off Chidley Road.

Fire crews arrived on scene quickly and extinguished the blaze, according to the news tips.

Castanet will update the public with more information when it becomes available.

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Smoke blocking flights

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Wildfire smoke is impacting flights flying in and out of Kelowna International Airport.

YLW said Sunday morning that passengers are advised to check their flight status on their airline’s website before arriving at the airport.

Five flights departing from Kelowna have been cancelled so far and five flights expected to arrive in Kelowna have been cancelled.

Air quality across the Okanagan Valley is currently at a very high risk and it's expected to stay that way until Monday.

Conditions could improve Monday as it is forecasted to drop to a moderate risk and a six out of 10.

For information on flights out of YLW visit this link.

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