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Fire season just two weeks old in B.C., but 18 active fires so far

Smoke can be seen from the wildfire north of Squamish. Police say the wildfire was sparked when a slash burn got out of control.
Smoke can be seen from the wildfire north of Squamish. Police say the wildfire was sparked when a slash burn got out of control. Squamish RCMP

It may be mid-April, but fire season, believe it or not, is underway in British Columbia.

As of Thursday afternoon, the fire danger rating for B.C.’s most populated regions were rated as moderate, though a large swath of the province was rated as low.

Though nowhere near high or extreme, the BC Wildfire Service says there have been 46 fires since April 1, including 28 in the last seven days.

READ MORE: Squamish Valley wildfire leads to evacuations, local state of emergency

Further, there are 18 active fires, with 39 per cent attributed as being human-caused.

The Coastal region has the largest number of active fires to date at nine, followed by five in the Kamloops region plus two apiece in the Southeast and Cariboo fire centres.

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There are no active fires in the Prince George and Northwest fire centres.

Nearly all of the active fires are small in size and are listed as being held or under control, though there is one exception: a 100-hectare blaze north of Squamish that’s listed as being out of control.

According to the BC Wildfire Service, 37 firefighters, three helicopters and three pieces of heavy equipment are tackling that suspected human-caused blaze — all against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

Click to play video 'Fire destroys downtown Mission business, including game shop producing COVID-19 face shields' Fire destroys downtown Mission business, including game shop producing COVID-19 face shields
Fire destroys downtown Mission business, including game shop producing COVID-19 face shields

Asked about COVID-19 and how it’s affecting those battling wildfires, the BC Wildfire Service says it has adopted a number of measures and guidelines, including physical distancing.

One example, fire information officer Jody Lucius told Global News on Thursday, has been the cancellation of week-long, boot-camp sessions in Merritt for new recruits, and how they’ll be now trained in their respective jurisdictions now.

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Lucius says the sessions in mid-April annually attract around 200 potential firefighters over a trio of week-long sessions.

“They’ll receive very similar training, they’ll be prepared to respond, but it’s happening differently,” said Lucius.

Click to play video 'Alberta banning fires in 60% of province, hiring more wildfire firefighters' Alberta banning fires in 60% of province, hiring more wildfire firefighters
Alberta banning fires in 60% of province, hiring more wildfire firefighters

Continuing on with physical distancing, Lucius said that’s something firefighters are used to, as the job demands they give each other space for safety reasons.

“When the firefighters are out on the fireline, there’s a few reasons why physical distancing is required, regardless of COVID-19 or any other health situation at hand,” said Lucius.

“And part of that is because they’re dealing with equipment like chainsaws, sharp tools, things like that as well as water hoses. There’s a requirement under most circumstances for them to have some space between them for safety reasons.

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“And we will be stressing the need to maintain that distance as best as possible under these circumstances, but the crews are ready to respond and will continue to respond.”

READ MORE: B.C. ban on open-burning now in effect

In other news, it’s hoped that burning bans recently implemented across cities, regional districts and the province will help tamp down wildfires this spring.

“We’re certainly hopeful for that,” said Lucius. “The prohibitions that have been put in place for category two, category three and resource-management open fires are certainly being put in place in an effort to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires that we do see.

“That’s really being done for two reasons: One of them is to reduce the number of fires that crews need to respond to, and that helps limit their potential exposure to any COVID risk.

“And then it also helps reduce smoke in the air during a time when respiratory illness is going through our province.”

For more about BC Wildfire’s latest fires, click here.