Officials with the Ministry of Forests are asking the public to do their part in preventing wildfires across British Columbia as the Canada Day long weekend marks the unofficial start of summer.
More than 566 wildfires have burned almost 1 billion hectares since April 1 and officials are preparing for more as B.C. enters the main wildfire season. Rising temperatures are combining with drought conditions across most of the province.
The ministry issued this appeal through an information bulletin issued Friday (June 30) as hundreds of thousands of British Columbians are preparing to enjoy the outdoors.
This influx, however, raises the risk of wildfires as humans are responsible for 52 per cent of wildfires.
“People should follow fire bans and restrictions and be prepared for wildfires by having an emergency plan and staying informed as conditions change,” a ministry statement reads. “Everyone must do their part in limiting preventable human-caused fires. Continue to monitor and follow fire bans and restrictions in your region. British Columbia is vast and ecologically diverse, and decisions regarding prohibitions will be made based on current and anticipated conditions.”
The ministry is underscoring its appeal by issuing a reminder about the potential penalties of violating open-burning prohibitions. Violaters can be ticketed for $1,150, required to pay an administrative penalty up to $10,000 or, if convicted in court, fined as much as $100,000. Individuals may also face one year in jail on top of any fines, or in lieu of.
Even more significant penalties loom.
“If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible may be ordered to pay all firefighting and associated costs,” the statement reads.
Crews fighting wildfires across the province will also have to deal with another growing source. The summer months raise the probability of wildfires caused by lightning strikes, forcing authorities to re-deploy their resources.
“The BC Wildfire Service is closely monitoring changing conditions and making necessary preparations with strategic aviation and crew placements,” the statement reads.
Individuals who want to report a wildfire, unattended campfire or open burning violation, can call 1 800 663-5555 toll-free or *5555 on a cellphone or download the BC Wildfire Service app. It allows people to submit photos along with their report, which helps inform BC Wildfire Service operational decision-making.
This appeal for attentiveness and assistance comes after the River Forecast River issued what many readers would consider a dire warning about the provincial water supply in its June 15 Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin
“Several factors have generated high risk of province-wide drought in summer 2023,” it reads. They include the “lingering effects” of the fall drought of 2022, unusually dry and warm conditions through the winter of 2022 and spring of 2023, an exceptionally rapid and early snowmelt in 2023 and the “high likelihood of above normal temperatures this summer.”
The most current drought level map underscores this spot. A dozen regions across B.C. including Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, the Interior Plateau centred around Prince George and the northeastern corner of the provinc have a drought level rating of 4, just below the most severe rating.
This means conditions are extremely dry and adverse impacts to socio-economic or ecosystem values are likely.