British Columbia

Campfires banned in northwestern B.C. amid reports of drought conditions, low snowpack

Drought forecasts from Agriculture Canada show most of British Columbia is abnormally dry or enduring some level of drought, similar to dry conditions that are being experienced across a swath of Western Canada.

Agriculture Canada forecasts show most of province is abnormally dry or enduring some level of drought

Burning prohibitions will be in effect throughout the Northwest Fire Centre. Bans on open burning are also in effect for the Prince George and Cariboo fire centres. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Dry conditions have prompted B.C.'s first campfire ban of 2019. 

The campfire ban took effect at noon Friday in the  Cassiar Fire Zone  which includes Dease Lake, Telegraph Creek and Atlin in northwestern B.C.

A ban on open burning is also now in effect in the municipalities of Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert. A similar ban on open burning still covers the Prince George and Cariboo regions of the province.

Drought forecasts from Agriculture Canada show most of British Columbia is abnormally dry or enduring some level of drought, similar to dry conditions that are being experienced across a swath of Western Canada.

Severe drought in northwestern areas

A drought map published by the department on April 30 showed abnormally dry conditions in parts of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as well as in southern and northwest Alberta, including where the Chuckegg Creek fire was burning out of control near High Level.

In B.C., the map showed patches of severe drought surrounding Terrace and along the Alaska panhandle.

There were moderate drought conditions in effect across Haida Gwaii, large sections of Vancouver Island and most of northeastern and southern B.C.

The Chuckegg Creek wildfire near the town of High Level, Alta., pictured on May 18. (Government of Alberta/Canadian Press)

Low snowpack

Adding to the drought and wildfire concerns are snowpack levels in B.C. Levels recorded on May 15 are among the lowest in the past 40 years, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre, and similar to very low levels seen in 2015 and 2016.

The centre says diminished snowpacks and early snow melt due to a warm spring increase the likelihood of low flows in rivers and streams across the province this summer.

As much as 60 per cent of the snowpack has already melted at most sites, compared to up to 25 per cent during a usual season, and in areas where the snow is gone, such as northeast B.C., data shows river flows are already ebbing to "below normal."

Rain in May and June will help in B.C., but the river centre says seasonal forecasts from Environment Canada predict above-normal temperatures in late spring and early summer across western B.C., and there is no sign of cooler, wetter weather in other regions.

Dave Campbell of the river forecast centre says everything depends on conditions over the next several weeks.

"The rain can make up the difference and we've seen that in 2015, when we saw these really low snowpacks but a fairly wet summer, and that was able to make up the difference," he says.

Scant spring rain in 2016 put much more pressure on water availability, says Campbell, although the B.C. Wildfire Service website shows 2016 was considered a "below average" season for fire starts and land burned, while 2015 was recorded as a major season.

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