Rainfall is crucial over the next three weeks in British Columbia, or the province could be in for another devastating wildfire season, according to the latest outlook from the BC Wildfire Service.
The service says rainfall and temperatures were near normal across the northern half of the province in May, but the same period was significantly drier than average throughout southern B.C.
Warmer and drier conditions are expected to persist in June across most of the south, though the wildfire service outlook says there’s no clear trend for the rest of the province.
“The amount of precipitation received in June typically determines the severity of the fire season for much of B.C.,” the outlook says.
“If the current weather trends continue, we can expect both the frequency and size of fires to increase as grass and other fine fuels start to ‘cure’ or dry out.”
The current wildfire danger rating shows most of the province at a ‘very low’ or ‘low’ risk, meaning wildfires can start but are unlikely to grow.
In the Okanagan, there are pockets of ‘high’ to ‘extreme’ fire danger ratings.
The outlook says Kelowna and Vernon just set records for the least amount of spring rainfall, Kamloops saw its second-driest spring in more than a century and many southern communities received less than 40 per cent of expected precipitation.
“Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops are of particular concern for busy wildfire service because they received 20 per cent or less of their normal average rainfall the spring,” said Madison Smith, fire information officer for the Kamloops Fire Centre.
“If rainfall is received periodically throughout the spring and into June, larger fuels, requiring longer drying periods, are much less likely to ignite, limiting fires to mostly fine fuels,” officials write.
Nearly 300 wildfires have been sparked in B.C. since April 1, which is higher than normal, burning 2,198 hectares of land.
The wildfire service says if the conditions remain the same, southern B.C. can expect an above-average fire season in the Southern Interior.
“If the current weather trends continue, we can expect both the frequency and size of fires to increase as grass and other fine fuels start to ‘cure’ or dry out,” the outlook says.
Lightning strikes increase in July, raising the potential for natural fire starts, says the forest service.
The Okanagan, Cariboo, the Southeast and the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains are at the greatest threat of wildfire, it says.
With the driest spring on record so far in both the Central and North Okanagan, and the fifth driest in the South Okanagan, there are concerns the valley could be in for some serious drought conditions this summer.
“The Canadian drought monitor right now is predicting and projecting a moderate drought in the Okanagan,” said Global meteorologist Peter Quinlan.
In the meantime, BC Wildfire says Category 2 and 3 fire bans will take effect at noon on June 11.
A Category 1 fire is a campfire no larger than 0.5 by 0.5 metres.
A Category 2 fire is larger than a campfire, but smaller than two metres by three metres. It also applies to stubble or grass burning over an area less than 0.2 hectares.
A Category 3 fire is anything larger than a Category 2 fire.
The BC Wildfire Service is urging those who start campfires not to do so on a windy day, and to fully extinguish all fires before leaving the area.
“We want to remind the public that all human-caused fires are preventable,” said Smith.
“Over 90 per cent of the wildfires have been caused by humans and that needs to be a lot lower, as we’re getting into the hot, dry months of July and August, and the probability of lightning doesn’t typically begin until late June and July.
“Obviously we can’t stop those natural-caused wildfires, but we can stop human-caused wildfires.”
— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Klaudia Van Emmerik