Dry spring sends firefighting costs soaring

Dry spring sends firefighting costs soaring

31 May 2009

published by www.vancouversun.com

Canada — An unusually dry spring has sent the number of wildfires soaring in the past two months, nearly doubling the cost of fighting the blazes over the same period last year.

The BC Forest Service has already reported 368 wildfires between April 1 and May 30. During the same time in 2008, there were 280 blazes.

The province has spent $5.93 million fighting fires so far, compared to $3.29 million in the same period last spring, said Alyson Couch, provincial fire information officer with the BC Forest Service.

“The public should be aware that with that many more fires, we’re spending that much more money getting them taken care of,” said Couch.

Many of the fires that have hit since April are still under investigation, said Couch, but it’s already been determined that 350 were caused by people and five by lightning.

In 2008, 259 fires in that period were caused by human actions.

In 2007, 231 of the 236 wildfires in the province during the same time were caused by

human activity, with lightning causing the other five, Couch said.

“This time of year we’re seeing more open burning, but as summer progresses, people are flicking cigarette butts, and leaving unattended campfires,” she said.

“Those fires are preventable. People should keep their wits about them because it doesn’t take much to get them going, especially when it’s so dry.”

The wildfire management branch has placed the Kootenay region, Cranbrook and Barriere in the “extreme” category for fire risk.

Couch said this spring has been unusually dry, keeping fire service workers on alert and ready to mobilize equipment and manpower.

She said this week is expected to be dry in the northern regions, raising the fire danger there.

“We’re looking at that area to dry out over the week and the rating could go up.”

Meanwhile, the weekend wildfire in Buffalo Creek, north of 100 Mile House, stretched across 150 hectares, destroyed two homes and led to the removal of 54 people from their homes.

On Sunday, the Cariboo Regional District rescinded the evacuation order in the Buffalo Creek region as firefighters controlled the blaze, said district spokeswoman Shelley Burich.

Burich said returning residents must still be cautious when they return to their homes, as damaged trees may be fragile and dangerous.

Couch said a high number of fires in the spring doesn’t necessarily mean a bad summer.

The risk rating for wildfires in 2003 — the worst year for fires in the last decade in B.C. — was rated as “low” between April 1 and May 30, Couch said.

By the end of that summer, conditions had deteriorated.

Forest officials count the Okanagan Mountain Park fire of late August 2003 as “the most significant interface wildfire event in B.C. history.”

An “interface” fire refers to a wildfire that affects rural, wilderness and residential areas.

The Okanagan fire swept more than 25,600 hectares and caused the removal of nearly 34,000 people from Naramata and Kelowna.

The blaze destroyed or damaged 238 homes, claimed 12 wooden trestles and damaged two steel trestles in the historic Myra Canyon.

That same year, a wildfire stretching 26,420 hectares in McLure, Barriere and Louis Creek damaged or destroyed 72 homes and led to the removal of 3,800 people from their homes.

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