The worst of the B.C. wildfire season may be over.
According to chief fire information office Kevin Skrepnek, there is a lot less fire activity occurring in the province, temperatures are cooling, and the risk of dry lighting is tapering off.
“We are heading into a fairly cool, wet pattern. It’s probably safe to say the worst is over,” Skrepnek said. “But, there are definitely some areas of the province that are still very much under threat. It is also not uncommon to see a relatively warm September as well.”
A record number of hectares have burned this fire season at an estimated 1,252,000 hectares, the previous record being in 2017 at 1,216,000 hectares.
“That jump in number wasn’t due to a dramatic increase in fire activity or anything like that,” he said. “It was just based on better mapping, as we were contending with such a thick cloud of smoke over the province. So, getting an accurate number on these fires had been quite challenging.”
Skrepnek cautioned that while 2018 does hold the record for hectares burned, it doesn’t correlate to impact on people and property.
“Looking at 2003 and last year just to name a few, definitely the overall impact of those years to property, values and timber values was quite a bit higher than this year.”
The total cost to date for the BC Wildfire Service for strictly fire suppression is $360 million.
“Looking at the last five years, at money spent in terms of this date, this would be the second most spent with the first being last year,” said Skrepnek. “For comparison sake, as of this date in 2017, our estimated cost we are sitting at a little over $442 million.”
Fire crews are making good progress on the blazes raging in the province:
- 512 fires burning throughout the province
- 5 new fire starts on Aug. 30
- Since April 1, BC Wildfire has responded to 2,015 fires
- More than 4,500 personnel fighting fires, including 850 out-of-province personnel, including 51 firefighters from Washington state
- More than 1,400 contractors from the B.C. forestry industry assisting
- 230 aircrafts flying in support of ground crews
- 770 RCMP members or civilian members deployed in support of B.C. wildfires, including Alberta RCMP tactical officers
According to Jessica Post with Emergency Management BC, the agency is maintaining a “response posture” with an eye on the recovery process.
Currently in B.C. there are:
- 31 evacuation orders affecting 1,551 properties
- 54 evacuation alerts affecting 10,475 properties
- 4 regional operation centres active - Nelson, Prince George, Kamloops and Terrace, plus the provincial operation centre in Victoria
- 19 emergency social service reception centres
- Some First Nations communities have offered support to evacuees
Heading into the Labour Day long weekend, there is a shift in the weather pattern for the entire province.
High summer temperatures are no longer expected, and based on information provided to BC Wildfire, those summer-like conditions are not likely to return.
The cool weather is likely to persist over the weekend with temperatures dipping to unseasonably cool in some areas.
A low-pressure system moving across most of the province on Saturday will bring widespread rain, but there are still areas that may not see any precipitation.
“Unfortunately, in the central part of the province, those corridors from Smithers to Prince George, where we’ve got a lot of these major fires burning, that is one of the areas in the rain shadow and has not seen much precipitation,” Skrepnek said.
Crews in the north are expecting a challenging day on Friday, with forecasted winds that could increase fire behaviour.
“We do still have a campfire ban in place for most of the province, with the exception of the fog zone on the west coast of Vancouver Island and for some parts of northeast B.C. where they have seen considerable amount of rain.”
Area restrictions remain in affect in regions where wildfires continue to burn. The BC Wildfire Service is asking the public to avoid active wildfire sites.