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Persistent drought, low snowpack priming B.C. for ‘challenging’ wildfire season

Click to play video: 'B.C. prepares for increased wildfire risk'
B.C. prepares for increased wildfire risk
WATCH: While it's been a relatively slow start to B.C.'s wildfire season, we're being warned that could change quickly due to ongoing drought conditions in parts of the province. Cassidy Mosconi reports – Jun 12, 2024

Wildfire season is well underway in British Columbia, according to officials from around the province.

Currently, 109 active fires are burning, with 69 of them being holdover fires from last year.

According to BC Wildfire Service’s director of operations, Cliff Chapman, many holdover fires have seen significant growth as temperatures have risen around the province in recent weeks and months.

To put the scope of the holdover fires into numbers, Chapman said the 69 fires have more than 7,300 kilometres total in perimeter size. Holdover fires can burn underground, more than six feet deep for months at a time.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government announces new online tools and support for wildfire evacuees'
B.C. government announces new online tools and support for wildfire evacuees

An unseasonably warm and dry winter has set up parts of the province, particularly northeastern B.C., for a “challenging” wildfire season, B.C. Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston said.

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Despite the concern with drought conditions and a near-record low snowpack (57 per cent of normal), Ralston said he is confident the province will be able to handle the coming wildfire season.

“We are prepared to tackle this season head-on. We have applied lessons learned last year,” he said.

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Canada wildfires: Highest-risk areas have moved from B.C. to Prairies, Northwest Territories

Those lessons were learned last year in the worst wildfire season on record, leading to the creation of a special emergency task force.

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The task force came up with recommendations which have been implemented in real time, according to the province.

Ralston said some of those improvements include leasing more planes, helicopters and equipment, stepping up prevention work, strengthening the BC Wildfire Service, and enhancing wildfire training.

The minister did say the province has seen twice as many wildfire firefighter applications compared to last year.

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Chapman said the low snowpack is a cause for concern as lightning season is approaching and many areas that usually are covered in snow, which would protect against lightning-caused wildfires, are now exposed. He said more than 60 per cent of wildfires are caused by lightning.

The BC Wildfire Service director gave kudos to British Columbians as well, saying so far this year, there has been a “very low number of human-caused fires.”

“Human-caused wildfires cover a spectrum of possible causes. Most of those are unintentional and could come from railway sparks or vehicle accidents, heavy equipment from industry and recreational activities,” he said.

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UBCO students build robots to fight wildfires

A major change for evacuees was announced on Wednesday.

B.C. Minister of Emergency Management Bowinn Ma said evacuees will have the option to get $200 e transfers per night for accommodations, instead of being assigned lodging.

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Evacuees are still able to get assigned lodging if they choose.

“While evacuees will still have the option to be directly referenced to lodging, the new e transfer will allow people to make their own decisions,” Ma said.

“Additional support via e transfer for food, clothing and incidentals (will also be available).”

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Okanagan MP calls for creation of National Wildfire Task Force

Ma is encouraging British Columbians to register with Emergency Support Services and to create family emergency preparedness plans ahead of any evacuation alerts or orders.

She also said residents need to be thinking about insurance as well, as it can be difficult to obtain once wildfires are active in their regions.

Water conservation is also a point of emphasis for the province, as drought conditions across the province, especially in the north east, continue to persist.

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According to Environment Canada, despite a cooler and wetter-than-expected beginning to June, hotter and drier conditions can be expected for the coming weeks, stretching into July.

No heat domes are forecasted for B.C. at this time.

For up-to-date information on evacuation alerts and order, the province said British Columbians can visit Emergency Info BC’s website or social media pages.

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