July 21, 2019 6:44 pm

B.C. wildfires way down compared to last year, but officials say that could change at any time

WATCH: (Aired Nov. 17, 2018) Lessons learned from one of BC's worst wildfire seasons

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People across B.C. are breathing easy so far this summer, as the wildfire threat seen over the past two years has failed to reach those record-setting levels.

But officials are warning that the low danger rating could change at any moment as temperatures begin to climb again and the lightning risk changes daily.

The BC Wildfire Service says the wetter July has brought the number of fires way down compared to the same time last year: just 27 burning currently, compared to upwards of 115 at the same time in 2018.

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READ MORE: BC Wildfire Service predicting normal fire conditions in July for most of province

The year-to-date total is also down compared to 2018, fire information officer Erika Burg said Sunday.

“We’ve responded to 516 fires this season, and last year at this time would be around 730,” she said.

Many of those fires sparked during the unseasonably hot and dry spring, which initially stoked fears of another record-breaking wildfire season that later cooled along with the temperatures.

The current fire total includes five new ones that sparked over the past two days, Berg confirmed.

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Two are in the Prince George fire centre, while a third is burning in the northwest. All three are burning close to the southern Yukon border.

The other two fires, which were both discovered Sunday in the Kamloops fire centre, were quickly extinguished hours later.

The three northern fires are less than two hectares in size and aren’t threatening any residents. They were also all started by lightning strikes, Berg confirmed.

READ MORE: Lightning storms spark cluster of new wildfires across B.C.’s northwest

Lightning could ultimately spell the difference in whether B.C. sees a dramatic spike in activity during the final two months of the fire season, Berg said.

“At the end of last July was when we really saw the season kick off — there was a significant lightning event over 70,000 lightning strikes over a course of, like, two nights,” she said.

“It’s nights like those that really start off a fire season.”

That risk could become more acute as temperatures begin to rise this week.

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While forecasters are predicting some rainfall midweek, both the South Coast and the Interior are expected to see more heat again heading into next weekend.

That could bring the low fire danger ratings up to moderate or even high in some pockets of the province.

“Things are going to be changing in the next week or so,” Berg warned. “Things are going to be heating up and a short period of drying can cause fuel to be rather susceptible to new starts.”

On Friday, the BC Wildfire Service compared the current province-wide fire danger ratings to those at the same times in 2018 and 2017.

The images showed a stark contrast, where several sections were rated high to even extreme during those past years.

Currently, many areas are low to even very low, even in normally high-activity areas like the Okanagan and the Cariboo.

The service warned, however, that just because the danger is low doesn’t mean people should become complacent, a warning Berg repeated Sunday.

“People should always be aware of their conditions and environment, and remember to keep cigarettes off the ground, be mindful of other things that could spark a fire,” she said.

READ MORE: With extreme wildfires here to stay, B.C. launches guide on how to get ready

Overall, Berg said officials have been thankful for the extra time the low temperatures have provided to prepare for a rise in activity.

“We’re feeling good and feeling prepared,” Berg said, adding that crews that have been assisting wildfire fights in Alberta and the Yukon will soon be back in the province.

“Especially as we enter this drier period, we will be able to respond.”

—With files from Robyn Crawford

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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