B.C. wildfire: How a wet spring might have aided the inferno’s rapid spread
Following heavy rains and even flooding this spring, B.C. is now battling more than 200 wildfires. Wet weather is often thought to be a natural deterrent to wildfires, but it seems it’s a bit more complicated.
While rain is helpful in shrinking the size of a fire after it begins, a wet spring can lead to more shrubs and grass growing — and in later months, the greenery can work as fuel to the fire.
READ MORE: Live updates on the B.C. wildfire
“Once the snow is gone, rainfall will encourage grass growth,” John Innes, a forestry expert at the University of British Columbia, said. “Green grass doesn’t burn very readily, so what you then need is a dry period so that the grass dries out.”
FULL COVERAGE: Wildfires burning around B.C.
Innes added that several weeks without rain, accompanied with dry, windy conditions, can make an area “more susceptible to fire.” That was likely partly to blame for the wildfires B.C. is currently battling, Global BC meteorologist Mark Madryga noted.
B.C. declared a state of emergency Friday after about 140 new fires broke out. By Monday, crews were battling 225 blazes.
The province saw a wet spring, and then several weeks of dry, breezy weather, said Madryga.
“It’s just been so dry since the first day of June.”
In Kamloops, where wildfires are currently burning, there were several days with temperatures above 30 C, Madryga said.
But a wet spring is just one aspect that influences how intense wildfire season will be. There are several other factors that contribute to how rapidly an inferno will spread, Innes said.
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For example, if previous years had wildfires.
“If there were no fires, then the dead grass from the previous year may still be around, increasing the amount of fuel available for fires,” the professor said.
While B.C. did see some wildfires in 2016, the season was “below average” in terms of cost and numbers of fires, the province’s website noted.
Madryga says weather in the affected B.C. areas won’t help firefighters in their efforts. He predicts the next few days are likely to be dry, and evening winds will help the fire travel.
Madryga noted that even once this round of wildfires is contained, it may not be the end. The season typically continues until August.
B.C. Wildfire Service’s Kevin Skrepnek said the current scale and intensity of the fires are unusual for the first week of July, and officials are planning ahead.
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“We have to not just be looking at the short-term period, but also for the months ahead of us too, if this tempo is to continue,” he said.
The province has already spent $46 million of its annual $63-million firefighting budget.
Once that threshold is reached, the service has immediate access to contingency funds, said Skrepnek.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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