British Columbia

Drought worsens as fires continue to burn throughout B.C.

This weekend's rain was not enough to extinguish fires or replenish streams and rivers

This weekend's rain was not enough to extinguish fires or replenish streams and rivers

Plants and wildlife are being negatively affected by drought conditions in B.C.'s northwest. (Jana Harmati)

Nearly one-quarter of B.C.'s regions are now at the highest drought rating, with no significant rain in the forecast.

And while those fighting the province's more than 500 wildfires have welcomed the recent rain and cooler temperatures, a spokesperson for the B.C. wildfire service says the fires will continue to burn for weeks. 

"Until we see that widespread and fairly sustained rain, we do expect the fire season to be continuing for two to three weeks at the very least across the province," Kevin Skrepnek said Monday morning. 

"We're certainly not out of the woods yet."

Jana Harmati has been putting out a tub of water for wild animals at her home near Smithers, B.C. She says she's seen deer and other animals come to drink, as nearby creeks have dried up. (Jana Harmati)

Parts of the province had some rain over the weekend, but it did little to calm the wildfires or replenish streams and rivers.

The province has assigned a Level 4 drought rating to all of Vancouver Island, the Northeast, Northwest, Stikine and Skeena-Nass areas.

Eighteen regions are at a Level 3 rating — including the South Coast and Lower Fraser — while the remaining five of 29 regions are at Level 2, for now.

A number of streams in B.C.'s northwest, including Dahlie Creek near Smithers, are dry, as drought levels worsen throughout the province. (Jana Harmati)

Valerie Cameron, B.C.'s water stewardship manager, says she has never seen the northern part of the province this dry.

"It's very unusual," Cameron said to Carolina de Ryk, host of Daybreak North.

"Even in our worst drought of memory, which was 2015 — many people remember that one — it was the southern half of the province that was severely hit. The northern part of the province was pretty normal."

Streams hitting historical lows

But this year, Cameron says all of B.C.'s coastal areas have been hit by drought, which could continue well into September. 

While she can't definitively say this is the driest Northern B.C. has ever been, Cameron says it's the driest she has seen it during her career. 

"Many streams are at their lowest historical flows. They've never been this low," she said. 

The Nass, Kitimat, Bulkley and Skeena and Stikine rivers are at the lowest levels ever recorded, which is critical for fish populations, particularly as spawning season approaches. 

The same conditions that are creating B.C.'s drought have also created the devastating wildfire season, which is nowhere close to over, with 536 fires still burning as of Monday morning. 

As the drought conditions worsen, the lack of water could also become critical for those fighting the fires. 

"One of our concerns is that in fighting wildfires, access to water is required, so when you have dropping stream levels and dropping lake levels, the amount of water that's available to fight wildfires becomes reduced," Cameron said. 

While there is some rain forecast for the next seven days in parts of the province, both Cameron and Skrepnek said it won't be enough to improve drought and fire conditions. 

"What would be needed to turn it around would be a return to our big fall rains. That's not forecast right now," Cameron said. 

"We're not seeing any of those big rainstorms. There are no systems like that anywhere in anybody's forecast, so [the drought] could end up being worse than 2015." 

The Capilano Reservoir in summer 2015, when a Level 4 drought was announced for the Metro Vancouver region. (CBC)

Despite the drought conditions, the City of Vancouver is still at its lowest level of water restrictions, meaning residents can still water their lawns on prescribed days of the week, wash their cars and use power washers. 

Cameron says this is because Metro Vancouver has three "excellent reservoirs" that store vast amounts of water.

In contrast, many areas of the province take water directly from streams and aquifers, which make them more vulnerable to drought. 

Read more from CBC British Columbia