British Columbia fire officials are warning that a lingering heat wave and the coming long weekend could be a dangerous recipe to jump-start the wildfire season.
After multiple consecutive years of devastating fires, B.C. has managed to escape 2022 largely unscathed.
There were 38 wildfires burning on July 28, compared to 380 on this day last year. So far just 11,000 hectares have burned this season, compared to 400,000 by this point last year.
The province has seen just one “wildfire of note,” the 2,476-hectare Nohomin Creek fire near Lytton, which has destroyed at least six homes.
“It’s definitely unusual to have gotten this far into the summer with this little activity; it’s something we are very grateful for,” B.C. Wildfire Service fire information officer Jean Strong told Global News.
But amid a week of blistering temperatures, the fire danger rating across the province has shifted steadily upward.
By Thursday, virtually all of the province was listed as “high” risk, with numerous areas in the interior where risk was rated as “extreme.”
“The areas that we’re watching in the coming days as we continue to monitor the dry, hot conditions and some of that lightning include areas of the Kamloops fire centre and southeast fire centre, but there are pockets of that high and extreme danger rating across the province,” Strong said.
“The fuels are dry, the snow has melted at higher elevations and those forests and other fuels at valley bottoms are more susceptible to ignition.”
While lightning is always a risk, the majority of B.C.’s wildfires annually are caused by humans.
With the B.C. Day long weekend approaching and millions of British Columbians expected to be out camping and celebrating, Strong urged the public to be extremely cautious with open flame.
Category two and three open burns are currently prohibited, but there are no provincial campfire bans currently in place, adding to the potential risk.
Anyone who does have a campfire should make sure they have plenty of water on hand, and ensure it is completely out and cool before leaving it unattended, Strong said.
Fire officials in urban areas are also urging people to exercise extreme care going into the long weekend.
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Capt. Matthew Trudeau said multiple days of hot weather have left the city tinder dry.
“It doesn’t take much to start a small brush fire that can quickly spread into adjacent vegetation, adjacent properties, and potentially into structures,” he said.
“Even a small amount of heat from a discarded cigarette butt, from open flames, any kind of smoking material including lighters, matches, butane torches, anything like that — we’ve even seen hot vehicles from their exhaust on top of vegetation — that kind of heat can start vegetation and brush on fire.”
Open fires of any kind, including on the beach or in backyards, are prohibited in the city, Trudeau added.
Barbeques are permitted on private property and at some park locations in the city, Trudeau noted.
Anyone who spots smoke or flame in the city is urged to phone 911 immediately, while anyone who observes what they think may be a wildfire is asked to call *555.