B.C. wildfire season expected to be busier than normal

The B.C. Wildfire Service conducted a planned burn on the Richter Creek wildfire west of Osoyoos in May. B.C. Wildfire Service

After back-to-back record-breaking wildfire seasons in British Columbia, firefighters are gearing up for another severe fire season.

In a 2019 wildfire season outlook released by the provincial government, drought conditions, above average temperatures and “significantly” lower-than-average snowpack levels combined indicate a “busier than normal season.”

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The outlook says meteorologists and fire-behaviour specialists gauge fire environment factors and weather data to forecast the severity of an approaching fire season.

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While rainfall has assisted firefighting efforts in the short-term, forecasts are predicting less-than-normal rainfall over the next few months in most regions including the coast, southwest, southern interior, and far north.

“A drier-than-normal June could result in a greater total of area-burned for the season due to earlier availability of dry fuels,” the summary outlook says.

“Although the number of ignitions across the province will strongly depend on the number of lightning strikes, fuel and weather conditions are indicating a busier-than-normal season.”

To date, 261 fires have burned 11,071 hectares in B,C., including 57 fires within the Kamloops Fire Centre. The province says the majority of early season fire starts are human-caused.

Click to play video: 'Officials contend with early start to B.C. wildfire season'
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The latest snow survey and water supply bulletin released by the River Forecast Centre says stream flows are approaching or exceeding record lows in some areas.

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Snow basins are also dropping significantly as a result of warm temperatures and rapid snowmelt, the centre says.

The Okanagan snowpack is 4 per cent of normal, the Boundary snow basin 3 per cent of normal and the Similkameen snowpack is just 1 per cent of normal.

Last week, Environment Canada released statistics showing it was a warmer and much drier spring than normal throughout the province.

Meanwhile, residents of Vancouver Island and the Fort Nelson area are being asked to cut back on their water use, as the province declares “Level 3” drought ratings for the regions.

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