Wet summer dampens wildfire risks

The Burns Lake region has so far been spared a hectic wildfire season this year, owing mainly to a cooler and wetter summer compared to 2018.

That outcome didn’t seem likely back in May, when a fire east of Fraser Lake appeared to signal an early start to the fire season.

The May 11 fire grew to around 260 hectares and an evacuation order was eventually imposed.

LOOK BACK: Fire breaks out near Fraser Lake

LOOK BACK: Evacuation ordered amid Fraser Lake fire

The warm and dry weather of late June, as well as low streamflows and drought conditions in parts of the Northwest Fire Centre (NWFC) put the BC Wildfire Service on alert for fire risks.

RELATED: Northwest Fire Centre aware of drought conditions

But anxieties over a repeat of the catastrophic fires of last summer faded as more rain fell in the region.

“This year’s [weather] is much closer to the average. That’s the main reason there’s been fewer fires,” as Doug Lundquist, Meteorologist with Environment Canada told Lakes District News.

In July, 72 millimetres of rain fell in the Burns Lake region, up from the average of 43 mm, Lundquist said.

It was even wetter down the highway in the Smithers area, where the number of rainy days outnumbered dry ones, making it almost record-breaking July, as a climatologist with Environment Canada told Black Press Media.

READ MORE: July 2019 for Smithers “almost record breaking” says climatologist

Temperatures for Burns Lake in July of 2018 were comparable to this year, but there was only 37 mm of rainfall last year.

“Last year the whole province was very hot and dry [during the summer].”

The official number of fires also shows just how different this year has been compared to 2018.

From April 1 to Aug. 23, there have been 94 wildfires in the NWFC, and 8,579 hectares burned, according to Carolyn Bartos, Fire Information Officer with the NWFC.

For the same dates in 2018, there were 143 fires and 842,768 hectares burned, representing about 35 per cent less fires this year that broke out this year.

With fewer fires to fight this season in the Burns Lake area, local fire crews were sent elsewhere, such as to Bell II where the Mehan Lake fire was blazing, and to the Atlin area where the Tagish Lake fire was burning.

However, last year personnel from outside the region, and even outside the country were brought in to help with the wildfires, as Bartos explained.

“The Northwest Fire Centre had not only our crews working on the fires here, but had resources from across Canada and international support. Almost 700 out of province personnel were helping fight fires across the province. There were three fire complex’s operating in the NWFC, one in the Cassiar, one in the Bulkley and one in the Nadina, that saw nine Incident Management Team deployments; in addition to the Yukon managing the Lutz Creek fire near Lower Post.”

Weather data for August was not yet compiled as of press time, but an example of just how cool the summer has been in northern B.C. came on Aug. 21, when the NWFC said in a news release that “the Arctic cold front currently moving through the Northwest Fire Centre has brought cooler temperatures and rain to most of the region.”

As a result, the NWFC said its firefighters would demobilize firefighting equipment and large-scale sprinklers in associated with fires in the Cassiar Fire Zone, which runs from Stewart and north to the Yukon border.

In summarizing the weather differences between 2018 and 2019, Bartos said that last year dry lightning storms often struck when the fuels were dry, while this year the lightning came with rain, Bartos said.

“Moving into the latter part of the fire season, the NWFC anticipates a warming trend in the weather, however precipitation is still in the long term forecast.”

Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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