British Columbia·Timeline

A look back at the 2021 B.C. wildfire season

With more than 1,600 fires burning nearly 8,700 square kilometres of land this year, the 2021 wildfire season in B.C. was the third worst on record in terms of area burned.

Though only the third worst wildfire season on record, many fires burned dangerously close to communities

A collage of three different photos. From top left: a burned and melted pickup truck, a firetruck spraying red liquid onto trees and an orange, hazy sky over a large body of water with mountains in the distance.
Nearly 8,700 square kilometres of land were burned in 2021 due to wildfires, making it the third worst year on record. (Matt Meuse/CBC, B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter, Chloé Dioré de Périgny/CBC)

With more than 1,600 fires burning nearly 8,700 square kilometres of land this year, the 2021 wildfire season in B.C. was the third worst on record in terms of area burned.

More than 140 fires continue to burn across B.C., even though October generally marks the end of wildfire season and the province ended its wildfire-related state of emergency on Sept. 21

The season peaked much earlier than usual, with drought conditions and a series of punishing heat waves leading to widespread fire activity.

One of the most notable and devastating wildfires in 2021 was the Lytton Creek wildfire, which torched the village of Lytton and left two dead. 

Another fire that caused significant damage was the White Rock Lake fire, which burned 78 properties and displaced thousands of people in the Central Okanagan.

Here is a timeline of B.C.'s 2021 wildfire season:

April: Wildfire season officially starts

The B.C. Wildfire Service starts tracking the wildfire season in April of every year. The 2020 season ends on March 31, with just over 150 square kilometres of land burned in total.

The first evacuation alert is issued on April 19, for the small community of Canford northwest of Merritt.

June 26: Heat dome starts to affect province

An image of the McCall Creek wildfire burning four kilometres southwest of Peachland on June 26. It destroyed a house there, one of the first recorded instances of property damage in the 2021 season. (BC Wildfire Service)

One of the first instances of property damage due to fires is recorded, as a house is burned southwest of Peachland.

Scientists warn the incoming heat wave in the province will shatter all-time temperature records.

June 28: Campfires banned across B.C.

As the fire danger for most of the province rises to "extreme," the highest on the scale, campfires and open burns are banned provincewide

The Sparks Lake fire starts north of Kamloops. It is suspected to be human-caused.

June 30: After temperatures skyrocket, Lytton burns

A brick structure in the foreground of burned property in Lytton B.C.
After three consecutive days as the hottest place in Canada, the village of Lytton burned within minutes on June 30. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC)

At 6 p.m. on June 30, Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman signs an evacuation order as a newly-sparked fire rapidly approaches the village. 

It is the first significant evacuation order of the fire season.

Within minutes, the entire village is engulfed in flames and two residents die

July 13: White Rock Lake fire is sparked

The White Rock Lake fire begins north of Kelowna. Investigators say it was sparked by lightning.

Residents of Lytton tour their fire-ravaged village during a momentary reprieve in fire activity. 

The Transportation Safety Board begins an investigation into whether the fire was caused by a CN train.

July 20: Provincial state of emergency declared

After weeks of requests from municipal leaders in fire-ravaged areas of the province, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth declared a wildfire-related state of emergency on July 20. (Province of British Columbia/Flickr)

With 2,900 properties evacuated, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth declares a state of emergency, weeks after municipal leaders requested the declaration.

More than 3,000 square kilometres of land have been burned by more than 1,000 fires, already putting the 2021 fire season above the notorious 2003 season in terms of area burned.

Aug. 5: White Rock Lake fire jumps highway and scorches communities

Monte Lake residents listen during an impromptu community meeting with B.C. MLA Ellis Ross after numerous homes were destroyed by the White Rock Lake wildfire. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

The increasingly aggressive White Rock Lake fire breaches Highway 97 and rips through the community of Monte Lake overnight.

The Sparks Lake fire north of Kamloops grows to 685 square kilometres in size.

Aug. 7: Vernon put on evacuation alert

The city of Vernon, which has 40,000 residents and is housing thousands of wildfire evacuees, is put on evacuation alert due to the White Rock Lake fire.

It is the single biggest community to be put on evacuation alert.

The White Rock Lake fire burning northwest of Vernon left the entire community of 40,000 on evacuation alert. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Aug. 17: Dozens of homes lost with little relief in sight

The White Rock Lake fire causes 1,400 properties to be evacuated on the west side of Okanagan Lake and 10 properties to be lost on the Okanagan Indian Band reserve.

The Coquihalla Highway reopens after a day-long closure between Hope and Merritt due to two wildfires merging.

British Columbians grapple with the third heat wave of the summer and the short-term forecast remains uncertain.

Aug. 20: Third worst wildfire season officially recorded

Even as conditions slowly improve with rains recorded in the Interior, the wildfire season passes a grim milestone.

The 2021 season passes the mark set in 1958 and becomes the third worst wildfire season on record, in terms of area burned.

Sept. 3: White Rock Lake fire under control

Cars in Killiney Beach were destroyed by the White Rock Lake fire. Killiney Beach was one of numerous communities on the west side of Okanagan Lake that were lost to the blaze. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Nearly two months after it was first sparked northwest of Vernon, the White Rock Lake fire is classified as "under control."

Residents return to find more than 75 homes burned and entire communities lost.

Sept. 8: Lytton Creek and Sparks Lake fires calm significantly

The last out-of-control fire in the Lytton Creek fire complex, the Tremont Creek fire southwest of Ashcroft, is classified as "under control."

The Sparks Lake fire is also brought under control. It burned nearly 900 square kilometres, the largest fire in the 2021 season.

An aerial view of a large wildfire burning in the forest.
The Sparks Lake fire was first reported on June 28, 2021, about an hour northwest of Kamloops. It was responsible for burning the most land during the 2021 wildfire season, almost 900 square kilometres. (BC Wildfire Service/Twitter)

Sept. 21: Province ends state of emergency

The province declares an end to the state of emergency first declared on July 20, with rain and humidity providing favourable conditions for firefighters.

Nearly 8,700 square kilometres of land has been lost in 2021, only behind 2018 (nearly 13,550 square kilometres burned) and 2017 (more than 12,160 square kilometres).

Of the fires in the 2021 season, 59.9 per cent were caused by lightning, with around 35 per cent caused by humans. This includes fires sparked by cigarette butts, campfires, and car exhausts.

In total, $565 million has been spent on fighting wildfires this year, and 181 evacuation orders were issued.