Here’s why B.C.’s 2018 wildfire season is so extreme, and why it’s not over yet

Click to play video: 'Wildfires force B.C. to declare province wide state of emergency'
Wildfires force B.C. to declare province wide state of emergency
WATCH: The hundreds of wildfires raging across British Columbia have forced a provincewide state of emergency. As Richard Zussman reports from Fraser Lake, hundreds of people are on evacuation alert – Aug 15, 2018

B.C. has found itself coping with another active wildfire season, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

This week, the province of B.C. declared a state of emergency due to the wildfires burning around the province. This state of emergency – the second to be declared in two years – will last 14 days, and can be extended or rescinded if necessary.

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The state of emergency was declared by Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, based on the recommendation from B.C.’s wildfire and emergency management officials.

“Public safety is always our first priority, and as wildfire activity is expected to increase, this is a progressive step in our wildfire response to make sure British Columbia has access to any and all resources necessary,” said Farnworth in a release. “Taking this step will further ensure we can protect the public, property and infrastructure, and assist with firefighting efforts.”

The minister said he hopes the province’s wildfire situation is not the new normal but the issue of climate change and its impact on forests must be taken into account.

“Obviously we know that climate is changing, we know that the fire season is starting earlier … we have been doing planning earlier, getting aircraft earlier, but it is a situation that we have to take seriously, the issue of climate change,” Farnworth said Wednesday shortly after the government declared a province-wide state of emergency in response to hundreds of wildfires.

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A Fire Information Officer with the BC Wildfire Service, Ryan Turcot, explained why this season has proven particularly extreme, and why officials expect fire activity to increase.

“In terms of the short term forecast, we’re expecting sunny and clear conditions with some patchy cloud over the next couple of days, so the implications of that, we’re probably not going to see a lot of short term reprieve in terms of rainfall,” explained Turcot. He added that it’s difficult to predict the forecast more or four or dive days in advance.

On the positive side however, he explained that temperatures on the ground are decreasing partially due to the thick layer of smoke now billowing across the province, which is a relief from the up-to-40-degree C temperatures being observed just last week.

There are currently 560 active fires across B.C.

Since April 1, the official start of the wildfire season, the BC Wildfire Service has responded to upwards of 1,823 wildfires. Turcot notes that this number is abnormally large compared to last year’s total of 1,216 wildfires.

“By a few measures, at this point it’s fair to say that this fire season has been more severe than a typical fire season. One big measure to look at has just been the sheer number of wildfires that we’ve responded to so far this year,” he said.

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Turcot broke down the medley of weather conditions needed to drive the wildfires to the levels we’re seeing now.

“A big driver behind the recent uptick in fire activity that we’ve been seeing is that by the latter half of July we had started seeing some very hot and dry conditions and those types of weather patterns persisted for a couple of weeks, which really drove up the fire danger rating across the province,” he explained.

By the end of July, most areas of the province had reached either a high or an extreme fire rating. Due to the dry conditions, new wildfires would take off that much faster and burn more aggressively.

Furthermore however, new ignition sources were created by a few bouts of lightning in early August.

“From August 1, onward, we saw a few instances of really widespread lightning activity across the province. A lot of the recent uptick in fire activity is also attributable to the fact that we saw just a vast amount of lightning across the province in the past few weeks, introducing new ignition sources,” Turcot said.

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There are currently over 3,372 personnel actively engaged fighting the wildfires, not including 1,400 personnel from the “B.C. contract community,” and over 426 workers brought in from outside the province. In addition, 217 aircrafts are actively engaged in fighting the wildfires as well.

— With files from the Canadian Press. 

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