British Columbia

Forest fire risk rising due to low snowpack

It's only March, but provincial firefighters are already issuing warnings about increased fire risk in several areas of B.C this weekend due to a lower than usual snowpack.

Provincial authorities raising warnings earlier than usual due to drier than normal season

A firefighting aircraft attacks the Smith Creek fire in West Kelowna last July. The 400-hectare fire forced 2,500 residents from their homes. (CBC)

It's only March, but provincial firefighters are already issuing warnings about increased fire risk in several areas of B.C this weekend due to a lower than usual snowpack.

Concerns about water levels and salmon streams were raised just last week . Now provincial authorities are warning about the potential for an earlier than usual wildfire season.

The Kamloops Fire Centre says grass and small shrubs are unseasonably dry and dead grasses have quickly dried out — conditions not normally seen until April. The Southeast Fire Centre in the Kootenays has issued a similar warning.

Fire information officer Kelsey Winter says the public should be careful with open burning given what the fire service itself is experiencing.

"In a couple of prescribed burns that we have been conducting we are seeing flame heights much higher than we typically see this time of year," she told CBC News.

Fire officials say anyone lighting an open fire should be aware of the dry conditions, follow burning regulations to reduce the risk and pay attention to changing wind and weather conditions.

Private fire ecologist Bob Gray says fuel drying out this early can lead to earlier fires, and more damaging summer wildfires.

"When they burn, they burn very hot and they give us soil impacts, significant air quality problems and they can damage watersheds, timber plantations, wildlife habitat — all those things," he said.

Rules for open burns

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch says large scale industrial burning or grass burns over 0.2 hectares require permission in the form a burn registration number.

Where permitted, it advises taking the following precautions with smaller open burns:

  • Ensure that enough people, water and tools are on hand to control the fire and prevent the fire from escaping.
  • Do not burn during windy conditions. Weather conditions can change quickly and the wind may carry embers to other combustible material and start new fires.
  • Create a fireguard at least one metre around the planned fire site by clearing away twigs, grass, leaves and other combustible material.
  • If you are planning a large burn, consider conducting smaller burns around the perimeter beforehand to create a fuel break and help stop the fire from spreading beyond its intended size. Each of these fires should be kept small and must be completely extinguished before starting a new fire.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Make sure that your fire is completely extinguished and the ashes are cold to the touch before you leave the area.

Anyone conducting an open burn must first check with the local fire department, municipality or regional district to make sure it's permitted.

In B.C. if an open burn is conducted within one kilometre of forest or grassland and escapes, the person responsible may be subject to a penalty of up to $100,000 and ordered to pay all firefighting suppression costs.


  • Bob Gray is a private fire ecologist and he is not employed by the province.
    Mar 09, 2015 6:26 PM PT

With files from Brady Strachan


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