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Nearly a quarter of B.C.’s 34 water basins at highest drought levels

500 international firefighters helping to wildfire crews in the province

Rain forecast for northern British Columbia will help crews gain control of local fires, but the province will need several months of above-normal rainfall to make up water deficits as drought conditions have worsened.

Nearly a quarter of the 34 water basis in B.C. are experiencing Level 5 drought conditions, meaning severe impacts on both communities and ecosystems are almost certain. The number of such basins was four last week, only to double. Another 13 basins are experiencing Level 4 drought conditions. Only two are below Level 3. One region managed to see a decrease.

These figures emerged during the latest now weekly update to the wildfire and drought situation. Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for BC Wildfire Service, said a low-pressure may bring lower temperatures and rain to northern B.C. “It does look like we may see a bit of a reprieve for the northern part of the province coming into the next week,” Chapman said, adding that authorities are not yet “fully confident” that this will happen.

Chapman added that rain could make a big difference, least in the short-term. He said it would allow crews to use heavy equipment and other assets to suppress the edges of fire. “So really, it gives us a chance to gain control and that’s what we need right now,” he said. “But in terms of trying to put an end to the fire season, we need significantly more rain,” he said.

Past years have seen season-ending rain events, Chapman said. But such an event does not happen every and it is not forecast right now, he added.

While the situation in northern B.C. is improving, Chapman warned against complacency. “There is still significant fire on the landscape and there are still fires in the northeast that have the potential to impact communities,” he said.

Chapman paired this assessment of the northern fire front with warnings about significant winds for the south starting Friday and into Saturday, which could challenge firefighters. They continue to receive additional support from abroad. More than 500 international firefighters will be fighting the fires by Friday, with another 100 firefighters arriving from Brazil.

RELATED: ‘Deeply concerning’: 22 of B.C.’s 34 water basins facing severe drought levels

When asked whether he would want more rain or more resources, Chapman said he would have answered that question with more resources a week. “We have the resources now,” Chapman said, pointing to the growing contingent of international firefighters. “So what I would say is rain,” Chapman said.

But significant rainfall does not appear to be in store.

Dave Campbell, Head of the River Forecast Centre, said the province finds itself in what he called a “precipitation deficit” that would require “months” of above-normal rainfall to close.

“When we look at the impact side of things, there’s a number of vulnerabilities,” said Campbell. They include fish habitat and populations and the ranching community dealing with dry conditions and reduced water availability for livestock.

Campbell said high drought levels have come “much, much earlier” than in the past, adding that the province is seeing levels that are much more typical in September.

“We haven’t seen this kind of condition before in most of the province,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Long, complex and challenging’: Worsening drought feeds wildfire risk


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