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  B.C. forest fire season rages on; could hit record financial cost

8 September 2009

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Canada — More than 2,100 firefighters are still extinguishing hot spots from an “unprecedented season” of forest fires in British Columbia this spring and summer.

“There are 517 fires burning across the province,” provincial fire information officer Alyson Couch said Tuesday. “There’s at least 12 or 13 fires that are quite notable. They are ones that are large in size or they’re near communities or structures.”

The biggest fire is the Lava Canyon blaze by Alexis Creek, approximately 100 kilometres west of Williams Lake, encompassing 63,533 hectares.

Still, firefighters around the province have been aided by the recent stretch of cool, wet weather that has dampened many fires.

There were more than 3,000 forest fires this year — about 1,000 more fires than usual — burning more than 2,105 square kilometres (210,579 hectares).

“We’ve spent over $300 million since April 1 of this year,” said Couch. “It was quite an unprecedented season for us with the hot and dry conditions. We saw record-breaking temperatures in several areas of the province and quite a few heat waves that went through, so because of those drier conditions, we saw more fires start and also an increase in fire behaviour (because) the drier the forest fields are, the more that they’re going to burn.”

The final cost to put out the flames is expected to exceed $400 million for the entire year. Last year at this time, the province’s cost of fighting forest fires was $65.78 million, and would increase to $81.15 million for the season, well below the 10-year average of $108 million.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen said the province is facing “the impacts of what could be the worst forest-fire season on record.”

Also, there has been an inordinate number of fires caused by lightning strikes.

“Over 72 per cent of our fires this year have been caused by lightning strikes,” said Couch. “Typically, we see 50-50. So, 50 per cent caused by human activity and 50 per cent caused by lightning strikes.”

There are still two fires of note in the Kamloops area, the Pritchard fire in the Martin Mountain area and the Notch fire, near Sorrento.

“Basically, both fires are in the mop-up stage,” said Jeanne Rucker, fire information officer for the Kamloops Fire Centre.

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