B.C. warns of increased risk of wildfires over long weekend

·4 min read
A photo from an air tanker shows a wildfire burning less than two kilometres from Lytton, B.C., on July 14. The B.C. Wildfire Service is warning of a heightened risk for wildfires this weekend, and asks the public to be prepared. (B.C. Wildfire Service - image credit)
A photo from an air tanker shows a wildfire burning less than two kilometres from Lytton, B.C., on July 14. The B.C. Wildfire Service is warning of a heightened risk for wildfires this weekend, and asks the public to be prepared. (B.C. Wildfire Service - image credit)

B.C. forest and fire officials are warning residents, travellers and campers in the province to be prepared for heightened wildfire risks this long weekend, leading up to B.C. Day on Monday.

"Sustained high temperatures throughout British Columbia this week are increasing the potential for wildfires," said the Ministry of Forests in a news release Thursday afternoon.

"Residents, travellers and campers should be prepared for wildfire and heat, to have an emergency plan and to stay informed as conditions change."

B.C. Wildfire Service will be keeping a close eye on changing conditions and shifting water planes and crews according to where risk is highest.

"Over the last two weeks we've had above seasonal temperatures, dry air and that's really accelerated the drying of our forest fuels," said Neil McLoughlin, superintendent of predictive services, in a statement Thursday.

"We've also seen the snow at upper elevations finally leave, so the forests are now more receptive to ignitions and more available to burn."

McLoughlin says the biggest concern will be when the heat and humidity start to shift.

"As these conditions persist they're usually accompanied by a drastic change in weather — which is strong winds and lightning," he said. "We're worried about new starts going into the coming week."

Jean Strong with the B.C. Wildfire Service told CBC's The Early Edition on Friday that there have been nearly 400 fires in the province so far this year, around 40 of which are active.

There has been an uptick in fire activity over the past couple of weeks as temperatures have risen, she said, but numbers are down significantly compared to last year and the province's 10-year average.

The Nohomin Creek fire northwest of Lytton remains the only wildfire of note in the province, and remains about 24 square kilometres in size, according to the wildfire service.

Crews said temperatures in the area hit 41 C the same day, and while there was increased fire at high elevations and increased smoke, the fire was not moving at a significant pace.

Campfires OK for now

Large open fires are currently banned in all parts of B.C., but the wildfire service says people can still enjoy smaller campfires — that means keeping fires under half a metre high and wide, and keeping water or a tool close by to keep them under control.

They say there may be different rules and restrictions in other jurisdictions, including provincial parks.

According to B.C. Parks, there are currently no fire bans in the province.

Strong said the province's fire centres use a buildup index, which estimates the amount and dryness of fuel available on the landscape, to determine when a campfire ban should be implemented.

She said it is unusual to not have a campfire ban in place this late into the summer. Fire centres are monitoring the situation closely, Strong said, and a ban could be put in place if conditions change in the coming weeks.

The province is asking people in areas especially at risk to be prepared to evacuate and says anyone who is travelling within the province, or visiting from elsewhere, should check out Destination B.C. for the latest warnings and updates. They advise anyone headed into the backcountry to avoid taking unnecessary risks.

With heat warnings in place, officials add that it's important to stay hydrated and have a plan to keep cool, noting that cooling centres and misting stations are available in many communities across the province.

In a joint statement, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged British Columbians to check in on friends, family and neighbours who are susceptible to heat-related illness and watch for signs of overheating.

Waterways affected

As heat dries out the backcountry, the River Forecast Centre warns the conditions are also having an effect on B.C. waterways.

"Hot temperatures early this week have triggered significant snowpack and glacier melt at the high elevations of the Chilcotin Basin,'' the centre says in a statement posted Friday.

A flood watch has been issued for the Chilcotin region including the Chilcotin and Chilko rivers and their tributaries as the centre says flows are "slightly over the 10-year return period level and are expected to rise further into the weekend."

A flood watch is also in effect for the Lillooet River near Pemberton and high streamflow advisories cover waterways in the Sea-to-Sky region as well as the Upper Columbia in southeastern B.C. and the Nechako basin west of Prince George, although the centre says levels of rivers and streams there are falling.

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