Extreme danger fires set to double again as hot and dry conditions persist in region

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With more hot and dry weather on the way this week the 27 “extreme danger” fires burning in the Southeast Fire Centre region could be on the rise, doubling as they did last week during similar conditions.

In all, there are 46 wildfires of note burning in the region, including 16 that are considered high danger, leaving only two fires at moderate danger. One fire burning near Rock Creek is very low danger.

Six days ago only 16 fires were considered extreme danger but high temperatures and no precipitation for the third week in a row have created a tinder dry forest undergrowth. No other area of the province is as at risk and currently beset by wildfires as the Southeast.

The Southern Interior only received 30 per cent of normal June rainfall, said Kim Wright, Southeast Fire Centre communications officer, and below-average spring precipitation with above seasonal temperatures accelerated the drying of forest fuels “at a rate not previously observed, making them highly susceptible to ignition.”

This has advanced the fire season. The region currently has 241 fire starts this year (65 active), 133 fire starts ahead of the five-year average.

“Burning conditions across much of the province are currently three to four weeks ahead of schedule and more typical of average mid-July or August conditions,” she said.

“Fuels right now are very susceptible to ignition throughout the southern part of the province.”

Above seasonal temperatures are forecasted to persist through the southern half of the province, she added.

With all of the fires burning, BC Wildfire Service is not fighting every one of them. The Service responds to wildfires on a priority basis within the Southeast Fire Centre, said Wright, with the top priority being human life and safety.

The second priority is property, she added, with the third priority protection of areas with high environmental values including community watersheds and species at risk. The fourth priority is resource values.

Other areas of Canada and the U.S. are facing similar issues, said Wright, and have resources tied up with their own wildfires.

“This means that some of the provinces and countries that would normally help out during B.C.’s fire season are currently busy fighting their own wildfires and are unable to assist as much as they could under different circumstances,” she said, noting that resources are being deployed strategically as a result.

Currently, there are two fires threatening communities or rural homes in the region, with the 742-hectare Trozzo Creek fire the closest to a community (Winlaw) in the area around Nelson.

The lightning-caused, active fire is 7.5 kilometres northeast of Winlaw, with the Wildfire Service reporting all “containment lines held, minimal growth” as of Saturday.

“This fire is visible from Winlaw, Nelson, Castlegar and surrounding areas, as well as to those travelling on Highway 6 in the area,” said Wright about the fire.

Even though the fire is not considered an interface fire — threatening homes — it is deploying 72 firefighters, three helicopters and seven pieces of heavy equipment to fight it.

According to the Southeast Fire Centre, “good progress was made yesterday (Saturday), with active danger tree assessing and falling” taking place on the Trozzo Forest Service road that allowed for safe passage for water tenders to supply water to ground crews to the west.

“A fuel free was constructed and overlaid with hose and sprinklers from the north flank of the to the fire,” a release from the centre noted.

In order to provide additional safe access for fire crews, two additional helipads were constructed, allowing suppression efforts to push farther into the higher elevation.

Containment efforts are centring on the western and northwestern perimeters, with a guard extending toward the southwest to hold the fire in the upper Winlaw Creek drainage — which flows down into the community of Winlaw.

“Helicopters will continue to provide support by bucketing the fire and moving equipment as needed,” the report explained.

Other fires of note:

• The Octopus Creek fire is located about 11 kilometres south of Fauquier and is estimated to be 1,172 hecatres. The Regional District of Central Kootenay has implemented an evacuation order for five properties on the south side of Taite Creek, including the Taite Creek recreation site. An evacuation alert is also in place for 162 properties in the communities of Applegrove and Fauquier.

• The Michaud Creek fire is located about 21 km south of Edgewood and is estimated to be 2,500 hectares. The RDCK has implemented an evacuation order for two properties in the Cinnamon Lake and Johnson Creek areas. An evacuation alert is also in place for properties in the communities of Edgewood and Needles.

Taking action on the home front

As this period of heightened fire behaviour continues, now is the time for homeowners to prepare themselves and property for wildfire, noted Wright.

Preparing in advance for a potential wildfire in the area that may result in an evacuation alert or order can make the experience less stressful for everyone.

Wright suggested taking the time now to develop a household evacuation plan, assemble an emergency kit and talk to neighbours.

People can visit www.FireSmartBC.ca and www.preparedbc.ca to find resources to help prepare for wildfire.

“If a wildfire is directly threatening your community, the best information sources are your municipality, regional district, band office or local authority,” she said. “Find out in advance how they’ll share vital information, whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter, a website or phone number.”

The importance of fire

Although the effect of a forest fire on domestic structures and some stands of timber can be devastating, there is an important role that fire plays.

Fire is a natural and essential ecological process and has influenced nearly all forest and grassland environments in British Columbia, said Wright.

“A wildfire is a ‘natural disturbance event,’ an acute environmental disruption that causes long-term changes to the affected ecosystem,” she said.

Following a wildfire, a resilient ecosystem — the ability to resist and recover from natural disturbances — will recover more quickly and will be more biodiverse, Wright added.

“Fire is a natural component of B.C.’s ecosystems, so when a wildfire is burning away from people, property, environmental values or resource values, it can actually be more beneficial than harmful in the long term,” she said.

Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

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