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Deluge of rain douses wildfire risk in B.C.’s southern Interior

The BC Wildfire Service says the weekend downpour decreased fire risk in the Okanagan
BC Wildfire Service fire information officer Taylor MacDonald says wetter and cooler conditions has resulted in a "very low" fire danger rating for much of the B.C. Southern Interior.

A deluge of rain that drenched the B.C. Southern Interior over the weekend decreased the fire risk in a region known for catastrophic wildfires.

Environment Canada says cities such as Kelowna (49 millimetres) and Summerland (47 millimetres) have recorded an average full month of rain in the first two weeks of June alone.

READ MORE: June snowfall on the Okanagan Connector

The Okanagan Valley recorded between 22 and 24 millimetres of rain from Friday to Sunday as several areas saw the coldest-ever daytime highs on record.

While the significant rainfall has elevated flood risk in parts of the province, it’s good news on the wildfire front.

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“I know this is going to give my fire weather forecaster colleagues a sigh of relief,” said Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

“This is what we hope for — we want June to be rainy to set the stage for the rest of summer. On the flip side, we want the rain to be low enough that we don’t get flooding,” he said.

The B.C. Southern Interior has been spared from widespread flooding seen in past years. Flooding has been limited to localized areas, such as Grand Forks, Cawston and Enderby.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Okanagan tourism operators brace for a likely dismal season

A high streamflow advisory remains in effect for the Boundary, North Thompson and Central-North Okanagan regions, including Kelowna’s Mission Creek and Mill Creek.

Data from the BC River Forecast Centre shows Mission Creek water levels peaked in early June and are forecast to drop, while the Shuswap River near Enderby could rise again to 10-year returns.

Meanwhile, the fire danger rating remains “very low” for most of B.C.’s Southern Interior.

B.C. looking to buy air purifiers for smoke relief in wildfire-affected communities
B.C. looking to buy air purifiers for smoke relief in wildfire-affected communities

“The more rain we get, the deeper we can get that moisture and the deeper the moisture gets, the longer it takes to dry out, so the rains we’ve had for the first half of June are what we really hope for for this time of year from a fire weather perspective,” Lundquist said.

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READ MORE: South Okanagan communities receive grant funding for wildfire mitigation work

The worst of the wet weather is over, according to Lundquist, with a chance of showers to start the week before temperatures could soar into the high 20s later this week.

June’s significant rainfall in the Okanagan has increased the water levels of Okanagan Lake but decreased the risk of forest fires
June’s significant rainfall in the Okanagan has increased the water levels of Okanagan Lake but decreased the risk of forest fires

“Warming up throughout the week as a ridge of high pressure moves in reaching, perhaps, the high 20s Thursday, Friday, Saturday, so it looks mighty nice for the end of the workweek.”

Looking back, the summer of 2017 will be remembered as one of the worst wildfire seasons in British Columbia’s history.

Over 1.2 million hectares of land burned, costing $649 million in fire suppression efforts and roughly 65,000 people were displaced, with the Cariboo region hit hardest.

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High wildfire risk for Western Canada
High wildfire risk for Western Canada

In 2018, record-breaking temperatures and severe lightning storms in late July caused another bad wildfire season with 1.3 million hectares of land burned, a new record.

The 2019 wildfire season in B.C. was quieter than anticipated, with 825 wildfires burning 21,000 hectares of land.

Overall fire activity in 2019 was well below the 10-year average and was the second-least-active wildfire season since 2011.