Summer wildfires burned fifth largest area in B.C. history

Summer wildfires burned fifth largest area in B.C. history

04 September 2014

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Canada — A handful of huge wildfires this summer helped scorch the fifth-biggest portion of B.C. territory since authorities began recording the hectares burned each season more than 60 years ago.

Even after a cool and wet Labour Day weekend in many parts of the province, 338,497 hectares have been destroyed by wildfires this season, according to the latest data from the provincial wildfire coordination centre. That’s a little more than the 337,149 hectares that burned throughout B.C. four years ago, but still far from the record 855,968 hectares razed in 1958, provincial fire information officer Navi Saini said Thursday.

No homes or notable structures were destroyed this year, but the province has more than quadrupled its $63 million budget this year, spending $266 million fighting fires, often in remote areas, Saini said.

More than a third of all terrain scorched was by a remote fire that was first discovered on July 8 and is only now 65 per cent contained.

The Chelaslie River fire in northwestern B.C. has burned 133,162 hectares so far. Large parts of the remote blaze have been allowed to burn unhindered in “areas where there weren’t any values or structures being threatened.”

To fight the Chelaslie fire and others this season, the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch called on a pool of 1,029 firefighters from within the province, but brought in another 1,196 firefighters and other support staff from every province in Canada, Yukon, Alaska and even Australia, Saini said.

These out-of-province firefighters and staff have so far cost the branch $17.9 million this year, Saini said.

“We obviously really appreciate the help we did get and it was very crucial that we had that support when we were stretched for resources,” Saini said, noting that B.C.’s firefighters get paid by other governments when they travel to help put out blazes in other jurisdictions.

The net gain or loss of firefighters varies from year to year.

B.C. sent “a lot of personnel out of province” during last year’s mild wildfire season, but imported 1,409 people in 2010 and another 2,512 the year before, Saini said.

B.C.’s fire protection area is 84 million hectares and there are an average of about 2,500 wildfires each year.

Of this year’s 1,336 fires recorded, 794 were caused by lightning, Saini said. Another 532 were caused by humans and the rest are still under investigation, she said.

This year’s biggest fires in the Prince George area were all started by lightning, which “lead to very fast fire growth” through forests that had been “drying out like we had never seen before,” according to fire information officer Jillian Kelsh.

Saini noted that while many of the fires in the north were caused by lightning, “a lot of the fires that Kamloops fire centre responded to were human caused.”

“Fire use in the backcountry or not being responsible with it does have severe consequences.”

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