Canada — When a wildfire came down out of the dry hills east of Kamloops over the weekend, racing to within a few metres of houses in the Del Oro subdivision before it was put out, it was a reminder of just how volatile British Columbia’s forest-fire season can be.
After a long, cool spring, B.C.’s forests have quickly dried out over the past few weeks.
The dry spell has pushed fire-danger ratings up across the province and causing officials to bolster fire crews by pulling in resources from California and Yukon.
Yesterday there were 97 forest fires burning in B.C., with three out of control, which makes the province the hottest fire zone in the country, far ahead of Alberta (16 fires burning, all under control) and the Northwest Territories (12 fires, four under control). Other provinces have only a handful of fires between them with just one out of control, in Saskatchewan.
And B.C.’s forest-fire season looks like it will soon get worse.
“For the most part, we’re seeing moderate to high fire-danger ratings, with a number of areas that are creeping up to extreme, and as this weather continues we’ll only see that risk going up,” Kim Steinbart, provincial fire information officer, said yesterday.
Ms. Steinbart said that in response to the growing threat, B.C. has recalled some fire crews on loan to California, and has borrowed four additional aircraft from Yukon, where there are only four fires burning, three of them under control.
B.C. is recalling three of six aircraft that were sent to California recently, where 96 wildfires are burning, Ms. Steinbart said.
B.C. has deployed fire crews outside the province three times so far this year, twice to California where crews have mostly been helping fight the Mendocino Lightning Complex group of fires, which have burned more than 21,000 hectares but are now 90 per cent contained.
Ms. Steinbart said it is routine for Canadian provinces and U.S. states to share resources, moving them about among the jurisdictions as demands shift during the fire season.
Resources are deployed through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, a provincially and federally funded fire management service that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week from Winnipeg.
The CIFFC keeps tabs on all current fires nationally and tracks the availability of fire-fighting aircraft, personnel and equipment in each region.
Ms. Steinbart said the movement of more resources into B.C. is a precautionary measure.
“It’s not in response to any fires that are happening now, but rather just a potential for increased fire activity over the next little while, especially going into the weekend,” she said.
Although there have been more than 700 forest fires in B.C. this year, most have been small.
“It hasn’t really been too bad,” she said of the fire season thus far. “We have had some fires of note, but we’ve been lucky in that they weren’t threatening any communities for the most part … and we’ve been able to keep the majority of fires small.”
But Ms. Steinbart said during fire season, B.C.’s forests are under constant threat.
That much was demonstrated 13 kilometres east of Kamloops on Sunday when a 30-hectare blaze erupted, threatening homes in the Del Oro subdivision.
Kamloops fire information officer Elise Riedlinger said 36 B.C. Forest Service firefighters, five air tankers and one helicopter were sent to help 25 Kamloops Fire Rescue members battle the blaze.
“It came within a few metres of some residences and industrial buildings. However … they managed to save the houses,” said Ms. Riedlinger.
“We did have air tankers there. They dropped some fire retardant lines and we had some hand guards built by the crews.”
Ms. Riedlinger said the fire was difficult because of high and erratic winds, but it was brought under control by Monday.
“It’s in the mop-up stage now,” she said.
“Crews are there just to ensure there’s not any hot spots,” she added.
With hot, dry weather predicted across southern B.C. this week, fire spotters will be on the lookout for lighting strikes, which caused 10 fires Sunday and Monday.