After two record-breaking wildfire seasons, officials in B.C. say 2019 could be another busy year but are cautious to say whether it will measure up.
That’s despite warnings from U.S. counterparts that last year’s deadly fires that decimated the West Coast could be repeated.
Kyla Fraser with the B.C. Wildfire Service said Friday while its predictive model is estimating some higher-than-normal temperatures and a busy fire season, she added that should be taken with a grain of salt.
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“It’s important to recognize that 2017 and 2018 were vastly beyond what we would consider a normal fire season,” she said. “So that prediction doesn’t necessarily mean we will see conditions worse than the last two years.”
More than 1.35 million hectares burned across B.C. in 2018, surpassing the previous year’s total by more than 100,000 hectares.
B.C.’s latest wildfire season officially started on April 1, and Fraser said so far the province has seen 105 fires that have burned approximately 534 hectares.
That included last month’s 95-hectare Mount Currie wildfire, which sparked the season’s first evacuation alert for 15 homes on the Lil’wat First Nation reserve.
Concerns are growing as forecasters on both sides of the border are seeing moderate drought in some areas of the West Coast due to a below-average snowpack. Add to that a drier winter and spring, and the recipe is ripe for naturally-caused wildfires to spark as temperatures rise.
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But Fraser said that’s still a ways off, and for the most part, the fire danger rating remains moderate for the west side of the province and low for the east.
“There are some pockets of high in areas, but I think it’s important to recognize that at this time of the year, most of the fires that we see are human-caused, which means they’re entirely preventable,” she said.
Officials are pointing to their FireSmart program that features tips for homeowners to protect their properties, including removing dead leaves, loose firewood and other combustible materials surrounding homes.
The U.S. National Interagency Fire Center said Wednesday the potential for “significant” wildfires is above normal west of the Cascade crest in Washington and Oregon through August.
The Idaho-based agency’s report also found a heavy crop of grasses and fine fuels has developed across California and should elevate fire potential as it dries through the summer.
California also saw its worst-ever wildfire seasons over the past two years, including the massive fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 80 people last summer.
Oregon and Washington also saw large wildfires spark across interior sections in 2018, forcing Washington’s governor to declare a state of emergency at the end of July. One person was killed in Oregon, where nearly 175,000 hectares burned.
While the wildfire season might be delayed in higher, timbered elevations of the Northwest because of a slower melt of the snowpack, “an exception to this could be along the Canadian border in Washington, Idaho and western Montana,” the agency said in its report.
Fraser said they’ll have a better idea of what to expect for B.C. when the wildfire service get new weather models next week, and that people should take advantage of the lower temperatures to prepare.
“Right now is a really great time for people to get educated on what they can do to prevent wildfires in their area.”
— With files from the Associated Press