B.C Could See Early Start to Wildfire Season

Authorities in British Columbia are sounding the alarm over the likelihood of an early and intense wildfire season this spring, attributing the heightened risk to ongoing drought conditions that have significantly dried out the soil and depleted snowpack levels.

Premier David Eby expressed concerns that the upcoming summer could prove particularly challenging following a historically severe wildfire season in 2023.

Forecasters are predicting a “high chance” of warmer than usual temperatures across the province in the next few months. However, the extent of drought and wildfire risks will hinge on the actual weather patterns observed in spring and summer.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS) notes that the prospects for sufficient spring rainfall to reverse the drought conditions are slim but not out of the question.

“We are witnessing certain conditions align that suggest we might face a tough fire season,” Neal McLaughlin, BCWS’s superintendent of predictive services, stated.

McLaughlin highlighted that emergency crews are currently tracking around 90 residual wildfires in the northeast, which have persisted over the winter. These fires are likely to reignite once the remaining snow dissolves and the terrain becomes drier, with even mild winds posing a significant ignition risk.

Furthermore, since the start of January, eight new fires caused by human activities have been reported under unusually warm, dry, and windy circumstances.

Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre, noted that as of March 1, the province’s average snowpack was 66% below the norm, marking one of the lowest levels recorded for this period in the past 50 years.

While this suggests a reduced flooding risk compared to last year, Boyd cautioned against the potential for rapid snowmelt or heavy rainfall to cause flooding.

Before addressing the wildfire threat, the province must navigate the spring flood season, exacerbated by the high drought code levels of most B.C. soils, making them highly susceptible to both flooding and wildfires, according to BCWS.

In anticipation of another demanding wildfire season, BCWS, alongside provincial officials, has commenced preparations earlier than in previous years.

Cliff Chapman, BCWS director of operations, emphasized the proactive measures being taken. Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bowinn Ma encouraged residents in vulnerable areas to devise evacuation plans and sign up for the province’s new evacuee portal well in advance.

Highlighting the reality of climate change’s impact, Ma emphasized the focus on preparation rather than inducing fear among the populace.

To enhance wildfire readiness, the government has been collaborating closely with First Nations and local authorities, transitioning BCWS to operate year-round. This includes acquiring additional firefighting aircraft and equipment and establishing a new logistics center near Prince George.

The province also announced the upcoming province-wide deployment of predictive software by BCWS, aimed at modeling fire risks more accurately using current maps, weather forecasts, and field observations. This system, which was trialed in specific regions last year, is set to be fully operational by the end of 2024, facilitating critical decision-making during wildfire incidents, as explained by Forests Minister Bruce Ralston.

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