Crews battling more wildfires than last year

But the blazes being fought so far this year are dwarfed in size by the record-setting fire season seen in 2017

The 2018 wildfire season in B.C. is more widespread and has involved more fires than last year’s record-setting fire season, according to provincial officials.

As of Wednesday, 462 wildfires are actively burning across the province — 25 listed as fires of note while the vast majority are smaller, more remote fires.

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Last year at this time, there were just 130 active wildfires burning around B.C.

“We’ve had more fires this year [but] they haven’t been as large as what we were dealing with in 2017,” chief fire information officer for the BC Wildfire Service, Kevin Skrepnek, told KTW.

Since the start of fire season on April 1, there have been 1,502 wildfires throughout B.C. that have burned an estimated 101,000 hectares.

At this time last year, there had been 939 wildfires and, by the end of fire season, more than 1,350 fires had engulfed the province, but burned a record 1.2-million hectares of land.

The current wildfire situation is less concentrated to specific fire zones than last year and while firefighters have made progress on the flames some fires are still a greater concern.

“We’ve got fires of note in all fire centres across the province and that’s a bit different than last year where it was concentrated in the Cariboo and the Okanagan and a little bit of the southeast,” Minister of Forests Lands and Natural Resources, Doug Donaldson, told reporters via teleconference.

Major fires of concern for the BC Wildfire Service are the Telegraph Creek fire in the Northwest Fire Centre and the Snowy Mountain wildfire near Keremeos, Donaldson said.

There were 44 new fire starts on Tuesday — most of which were lightning caused.

There are 2,800 personnel between firefighters on the front lines and support staff working on wildfires throughout B.C. and the cost of fighting the wildfires since April 1 is currently sitting at $131 million, Skrepnek said.

Last year, wildfire costs reached more than $568 million.

While there are no fires burning particularly close to Kamloops at the moment, smoke from wildfires burning around the province and Washington State has lingered in the valley thanks to a ridge of high pressure, said Environment Canada meteorologist Lisa Erven.

There is a special air quality statement in effect for Kamloops and the air quality health index dropped from a six to a four — both moderate risk — but smoky conditions are expected to lift by the weekend with cooler temperatures and wind on the way.

Temperatures are dropping from highs of 37 C and 40 C on Wednesday and Thursday to 26 C on Saturday.

Erven told KTW the fire season got off to a bit of a slow start this year as it wasn’t until mid July that more and more fires began popping up across the province.

“More recently, in the last two or three weeks, is when things have really escalated and that’s not surprising given that basically once we got past the first week in July with that cooler, showery weather hanging over the province, we basically swapped into these weeklong heatwaves with no precipitation, so things dried out very quickly,” she said.

The fire danger rating was listed as low to moderate throughout most of the province by the end of June but it currently sits at high or extreme throughout most of the province now. There are campfire bans throughout most fire centres, including the Kamloops Fire Centre.

Skrepnek said the wildfire service is expecting a dramatic change in the weather Friday with cooler temperatures, wind and some thunderstorm activity.

“The X factor in terms of those thunderstorms is going to be around if we do see rain with those thunderstorms because there is a very good chance we’re going to see a pretty significant increase in lightning activity as well,” Skrepnek said.

Skrepnek told KTW about three to five millimetres are expected in the southern Interior from those thunderstorms.

“We’ll take any rain we can get, but it’s certainly not going to be a [fire] season ending event,” Skrepnek said.

He said the wildfire service bracing for Friday to be a difficult day and is keeping an eye on how much rain is going to fall and where.

As of Wednesday, wildfires have caused 22 active evacuation alerts that are in place across the province and 17 evacuation orders, the largest being for the Telegraph Creek fire where 250 people are under evacuation order and about 2,000 under evacuation alert.

“There are others that are scattered throughout the province and involve, in many cases, five, 10 [and] smaller than that,” said Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth.

Emergency Management BC has been in working with people under evacuation order to ensure they have what they need while displaced, he added.

Last year wildfires displaced about 65,000 people.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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