B.C. preparing for increased wildfire risk in northeastern region

Click to play video: 'Early drought and wildfire risk warning for B.C.'
Early drought and wildfire risk warning for B.C.
WATCH: The B.C. and federal governments are warning that large parts of the province are already seeing serious drought and wildfire conditions. Kylie Stanton reports. – May 9, 2024

Looking ahead to what could be a hot and dry summer, provincial officials issued an update on Thursday regarding wildfire and drought concerns.

Minister of Emergency Management Bowinn Ma said with many parts of B.C. experiencing warmer-than-seasonal weather, coupled with drought conditions, there’s already an increased risk for wildfires especially in the northeastern region.

Forests minister Bruce Ralston said the province is preemptively setting up a wildfire command centre in the Fort Nelson area, as a cold front will be sweeping into the area this weekend.

Community members in northeastern B.C. are being told to be emergency prepared and to stay vigilant.

Hot temperatures are also expected this weekend across the province.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government warning of increased fire risk in northeastern region this weekend'
B.C. government warning of increased fire risk in northeastern region this weekend

To assist residents during wildfire season, B.C. has unveiled a new online tool that can be used to create personalized emergency preparedness plans.

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“We’re taking strong action to help you and your family prepare and have the information you need during emergencies,” Ma said.

“Being prepared and feeling ready starts with having a plan. We encourage everyone to make an emergency and evacuation plan, and the new tools launched today make planning easier and will help people stay safe.”

That can be found online.

Major upgrades have also been done on the BC Wildfire Service app, which will provide up-to-date information on ongoing fires, fire bans and prohibitions, and evacuation alerts and orders.

A drought information web portal has also been updated by the province.

It will be refreshed every Thursday with up-to-date information.

Click to play video: 'Emergency Preparedness Week'
Emergency Preparedness Week

A pilot project regarding emergency evacuees needing hotel rooms was also introduced recently.

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The project, a partnership between the provincial government and the BC Hotel Association, is aimed at helping people who are forced to flee their homes because of an emergency and need a place to stay.

Starting in June, evacuees will be able to access an online booking system when a climate crisis strikes, including wildfire or flooding. The pilot project will start in Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George and will expand from there.

“The innovative system aims to expedite evacuees to safe shelter with increased speed and coordination, ensuring seamless collaboration in real-time,” said the BC Hotel Association.

The reservation system “ensures efficient coordination in times of crisis” and “live availability information eliminates the need for manual calls to hotels, providing prompt updates on accommodations availability.”

The province is urging British Columbians to be water smart, as the current snowpack is about 66 per cent of normal.

“In communities across B.C., people, businesses and governments are already taking steps to follow local restrictions and help save water. Small changes make a big difference when we do them together,” said Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

Community members are being told to pay attention to their local authorities for water restrictions and rules. People are also being told to “fire smart” their properties, which means removing possible wildfire fuels from around the home.

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Drought conditions around the province are as bad or are worse than last year, which is leading to extreme concern for the coming wildfire season.

Dave Campbell, head of the BC River Forecast Centre, said persistent drought conditions in B.C. stretch back to 2022, so the province is heading into this summer with “multi-year” precipitation deficits.

Satellite photos show rivers across the province running narrower and shallower than the same time in 2023, which was one of B.C.’s driest years on record.

“The concern is if we get that hot, prolonged dry (period) that we’ve seen last year and the year before as well. If that continues this summer, then really we are on a path toward things that we haven’t seen in recent memory.”

Pockets of the Interior are especially dry. Campbell said he’s most worried about the effects of drought on smaller rivers and creeks in the central Interior.

“Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Vanderhoof, that’s kind of the hot spot, and then the other (area) that would be a concern would be up in the northeast,” he said.

The area around Vanderhoof, B.C., west of Prince George, has seen about 220 millimetres of rain over the past year when it typically sees about 460 millimetres.

Click to play video: 'B.C. preparing for a challenging wildfire season'
B.C. preparing for a challenging wildfire season

— With file from Doyle Potenteau, Canadian Press


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