Early wildfire season expected in northern B.C.

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service, below-normal snowpack levels seen in some parts of northern B.C. indicate that the wildfire season will likely have an early start this year.

While near-normal levels range from 90 to 110 per cent, the Upper Fraser West basin - which includes the communities of Burns Lake, Fort St. James and Vanderhoof - has its snowpack at 71 per cent of normal.

Although the B.C. Wildfire Service expects an early season, it’s still too early to predict its intensity, according to Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer for the B.C. Wildfire Service.

“We look at lots of factors going into the spring to try to get an idea of what the season will look like,” he explained. “Snowpack is definitely an indicator we keep a close eye on, but it really depends on short-term weather.”

Seasonal forecasts from Environment and Climate Change Canada indicate an increased likelihood of above-normal temperatures over the April-June period, particularly for northern B.C.

“We can have a fairly warm summer, but if it’s raining on a regular basis, that will keep the fire danger down,” he added.

As of April 11, the Northwest Fire Centre had not seen any wildfires and fire danger rating across the region was “low.” The province as a whole had seen 13 wildfires.

Skrepnek said none of those wildfires have been “major.” However, since all of those fires were preventable, he said people should not be complacent just because it’s still early in the season. In fact, April 18 was the busiest fire day of the 2016 season.

In April 2016, the B.C. Wildfire Service responded to 79 fires that ended up burning over 14,000 hectares. Skrepnek said the grass that hasn’t turned green is more flammable than the green grass seen later in the season. He reminded the public to be extra cautious with any open burning.

“Almost all of them [wildfires] at this time of the year are human caused,” he explained. “We don’t have a lot of lightening at this time of the year in B.C.”

By mid-May, a little over 1000 firefighters are expected to be working across B.C.

“Those are seasonal positions, so we typically see a 20 per cent turnover rate from year to year,” said Skrepnek.

The B.C. Wildfire Service received approximately 1000 applications to fill the approximately 200 positions that were available this year. Recruitment and training are still ongoing.



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