More than 700 wildfires burn across B.C.

More than 700 wildfires burn across B.C.

2 August 2009

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Canada — Hot, dry weather and frequent lightning storms are pushing B.C.’s wildfire response to the breaking point.

With 169 new fires reported on Saturday alone, emergency officials and fire crews are increasingly finding themselves at the mercy of the flames and the heat.

“It’s keeping us very busy,” said fire information officer Kim Steinbart, of the weather conditions around the province. “It’s generally extremely dry right now and the fires are behaving very aggressively.”

By Sunday morning, the Ministry of Forests was monitoring 739 forest fires of various sizes burning in different areas of the province. That number is more than double the 309 fires from a week earlier and far higher than the less than 100 fires burning around B.C. on July 22.

“That number is going up quickly,” said Steinbart. “We could see more start in the next couple of days with warmer temperatures in the forecast.”

Virtually every region of the province is fighting a forest fire of some size. There about a dozen fires around B.C. that are threatening a nearby community or have grown to a troubling size.

The Terrace Mountain fire, north of Kelowna, grew 2,500 hectares through Sunday morning to 7,000 hectares in size. The fire now covers an area roughly two-thirds the size of Vancouver.

Near Lillooet, the Mount McLean fire held steady at 2,650 hectares on Sunday morning but continued to rage out of control less than one kilometre from the 2,300-person town.

Two more large fires have broken out and are spreading near Pemberton.

A number of the fires have grown so rapidly crews have been forced to temporarily retreat rather than risk their lives, said Steinbart.

Although the province plans ahead for busy fire seasons, the sudden surge of fires this summer has been alarming.

“Certainly we’re prepared every year to deal with a regular fire season,” said Steinbart. “Definitely, this one is turning out to be an above average fire season.”

Roughly 90 per cent of the 2,100 wildfires in B.C. since April have been sparked by lightning, said Steinbart. The remainder, including at least six on Saturday, were caused by people.

“What is a concern for us is that more people are going out, using recreational areas,” she said. “If you’re in an area that was hit by lightning, that does pose a risk to the safety of the public.”

Hot temperatures have swept over many parts of the province and with more lightning expected the stage has been set for more fires burn.

In the past two days, some rain has fallen in northeastern B.C., but not enough to affect the fire danger, said Steinbart.

“We’re hoping for some kind of reprieve in the next few days,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll get enough rainfall so that we can move a few of our resources to fight other fires.”

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