The BC Wildfire Service has now spent $178.5 million dollars fighting 825 wildfires since April 1. There are still 149 fires burning in BC with seven news ones starting on Sunday. A total of 426,000 hectares have burned, making 2017 in the third worst wildfire season on record for the province with the fire season only about half over.
In 1958, wildfires burned 855,000 hectares – the worst wildfire season ever recorded. 1961 saw 483,000 hectares burned. Any way you look at it, Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek says this year’s wildfire season is reaching historic proportions.
“Not to be grim, but given the pace at which we have seen these fires expand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us overtake that number,” Skrepnek said during today’s media update. “That 483,000 was the season-ending number. Given the activity we have, given the weather forecast, I wouldn’t be surprised if we overtake that number.”
Hot and dry conditions are expected to persist across southern BC into the August long weekend. While Skrepnek said northern BC is “becoming less and less of a concern” in terms of wildfires, temperatures in parts of the southern interior could surpass 40 degrees this week. The long, hot stretch should minimize the chances of high winds and lightning but continued hot and dry conditions will likely increase the risk of human caused fires.
“When conditions are this volatile, this dry, we really, really need to emphasize to people that they need to be exercising an exceptional degree of caution,” Skrepnek says. “There are certainly very steep fines involved for violating an open fire prohibition which we do have in place for most of the province right now. Campfires, any open burning, the use of burning barrels, fireworks – all prohibited throughout our jurisdiction. When it’s this dry, even the use of off-road vehicles in tall grass can be enough to ignite a fire.”
Anyone caught breaking a fire ban could face a fine of $1150. Several of this season’s fires have been caused by people. The RCMP are currently investigating whether a fire that started on Knox Mountain, near Kelowna, was intentionally set.
About 3,7000 people are currently working for the BC Wildfire Service, including more than 1,400 contractors from the forest industry and nearly 200 aircraft supporting ground crews. With August typically the busiest month for fires and no weather reprieve in sight, Skrepnek says the Wildfire Service has reached to to both national and international partners for further support. He says he expects the wildfire situation to extend for at least another month, if not longer.
While many evacuees have been able to return to their homes. Emergency Management BC (EMBC) estimates that about 6,000 people are still out of their homes. There are 25 evacuation orders and 47 evacuation alerts still in place. EMBC says about $9-10 million of the $100 million emergency fund created by the BC government has been spent so far. Almost all of that has gone to evacuated families in the form of e-transfers.