British Columbia

Firefighters hope for wet weather to head off ominous wildfire forecasts

The aggressive start to this year’s wildfire season could just be a taste of what’s to come, as forecasters predict weather conditions that are ripe for fire throughout the summer.

Area burned in B.C. so far this year is nearly twice the 10-year average, wildfire service says

One of the early-season wildfires began in March near Lytton, B.C. (Edith Loring-Kuhanga/Twitter)

The aggressive start to this year's wildfire season could just be a taste of what's to come, as forecasters predict weather conditions that are ripe for fire throughout the summer.

The latest monthly forecasts from the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System show "well above average" hot and dry conditions throughout the southern half of B.C. in July and August, leaving the province especially vulnerable to wildfire.

That's a concern for the B.C. Wildfire Service, according to fire information officer Claire Allen.

"Certainly we are noticing that and preparing our resources adequately," she told CBC.

That means getting 1,100 provincial firefighters prepared to go out on the lines.

"Those that aren't currently assigned to wildfires right now are doing all of the training necessary to prepare them for a busy season — that includes all the fitness standards that we follow, safety standards, as well as fire suppression," Allen said.

A forecast generated in June by the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System shows "well above average" conditions for wildfire across the western half of the country in July. (Natural Resources Canada)

Already this year, close to 40,000 hectares of the province has burned in early season fires — close to double the 10-year average for this time of year.

"We've certainly seen some aggressive wildfires in the early season, particularly those that have burned in the Kamloops fire centre area as well as up in the northeast," Allen said.

But that doesn't necessarily portend a bad fire season. Last year's record-breaking wildfire season actually began with a very slow spring, Allen said.

What happens in June could mean the difference between a quiet summer for firefighters and another 2017.

"We call the June rains really the best indication of how active and early our wildfire season will be," Allen said.

Rain in forecast

Weather forecasts for the next few weeks are calling for cooler and wetter weather for many parts of the province, including fire-prone areas of the south and central Interior.

That's good news, but it may not be enough.

"A lot of the precipitation that we're getting is associated with thunderstorm development, so it can be patchy. One area might get substantial rain, while the next valley over could stay fairly dry," Allen said.

And the long-range forecasts are also showing an increased risk of drought, according to a bulletin from the River Forecast Centre.

May's extreme hot and dry weather meant that snow in the mountains melted much faster than normal in many parts of the province.

That led to destructive flooding in some areas, and now it could mean low water levels in rivers across the Skeena, Peace, Liard, Upper Fraser West, Middle Fraser/Cariboo, central coast, Vancouver Island, Okanagan, Lower Fraser and East Kootenay.

But just like with wildfires, the biggest question mark for drought and low water flow is the weather throughout the late spring and summer, the River Forecast Centre says.