British Columbia

'Abnormally dry' conditions across Pacific Northwest could spell long wildfire season for B.C.

As weather in British Columbia begins to heat up, the spectre of another potentially destructive wildfire season is on the horizon.

U.S. National Interagency Fire Center's outlook is a 'heads-up' for B.C., says fire ecologist

The 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive on record in British Columbia. (@CONAFOR/Twitter)

As the weather in B.C. begins to heat up, the spectre of another potentially destructive wildfire season looms.

The U.S.-based National Interagency Fire Center has released its weather outlook for May into August — and it presents worrying signs for the upcoming wildfire season, with the Pacific Northwest already experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions, and some areas entering a moderate drought.

"An early entry [into fire season] is possible across the Cascades and in the Okanogan," the outlook reads, referring to the Okanogan region in Washington, south of B.C.'s Okanagan Valley.

The U.S. outlook doesn't detail wildfire risk in Canada, pertaining only to U.S. states — but B.C.-based fire ecologist Bob Gray says the weather pattern outlined in the document affects British Columbia as well.

"The first half of May, at least, will be definitely drier than it has been," said Gray. "This [outlook] suggests that pattern will hold true for the next four months."

Environment and Climate Change Canada's Canadian Seasonal to Inter-annual Prediction System (CanSIPS), paints a similar picture, with fire-danger maps for early May showing many areas of B.C. with a "high" and even "very high" fire risk.

CanSIPS predicts that fire weather severity in southwestern B.C. will be well above average in June. (Environment and Climate Change Canada's Canadian Seasonal to Inter-annual Prediction System)

Gray stressed that weather predictions don't always come true and should be taken as educated guesses. He said weather predictions are correct roughly 70 per cent of the time. 

But he said the predictions are reason for concern.

"Basically it's a heads-up," said Gray, explaining how the predictions can be used by officials to get resources in place ahead of a fire, and prepare communities for potential evacuation.

"We should be starting to act accordingly."

In terms of action B.C. residents should be taking now, Gray echoed precautionary measures that have been suggested in years past: prepare an emergency kit, remove fire hazards in and around your home (such as dry branches and leaves), keep a good sprinkler in an accessible location, and work out an escape plan with your loved ones.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of the destruction in previous years — the province experienced its most destructive fire seasons on record in 2017 and 2018 — the B.C. government increased fire prevention programs and funding in March.

Funding for wildfire management has increased by 58 per cent, bringing the total to $101 million annually.

With files from The Early Edition


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