BC Wildfire Service warns season not yet over due to drought

VANCOUVER – Seemingly endless summer conditions in British Columbia have prompted a warning that this year’s « very unique fire season » in the province is not over yet.

Hot and dry conditions persist, which the BC Wildfire Service’s Superintendent of Predictive Services said is « quite problematic » and creating conditions for potential ignitions across British Columbia

Neal McLoughlin said the season was unusual as it started slow and was wet, with delayed snowmelt, then changed to hot, dry conditions in July which continued to persist through October.

Temperatures are about five to eight degrees above normal for this time of year, and there has been little to no rain in many parts of British Columbia for weeks.

« We’re starting to change the status of a lot of our fires to ‘held’ or ‘under control’, but there are still fires in the landscape, » McLoughlin said in an interview. « I would say that while we maintain this hot, dry, rainless period, the fire season is by no means over. »

The service cites a below-average season for area burned, and although lightning-caused fires were about double the average in August, low winds are helping crews fight the fires, McLoughlin said.

“Strong winds are essentially the accelerator of a fire in terms of the speed of spread and the degree of spread,” he explained.

He said between 10 and 20 millimeters of rain across British Columbia over a one- or two-day period would likely be needed for the service to consider an end to the fire season.

« While we’re not seeing as many human-caused fire starts and flashes, it only takes one ignition under the right conditions, and we could see a large fire or an aggressive day in terms of fire behavior. fire. »

While the wildfire department downgraded the last so-called “notable wildfire” on Sept. 24, more than 160 wildfires continued burning across the province on Friday, two dozen of them started the last week.

It comes as the Ministry of Forestry warns of drought conditions in parts of the province. Vancouver Island, the interior south coast and the northeastern corner of the province have reached the second most severe level of drought on the five-point scale.

The ministry has classified these areas as drought level 4, which means conditions are extremely dry and will likely adversely affect everything from jobs to ecosystems.

“While most forests can withstand occasional water shortages, repeated droughts cause stress to forests and trees. When trees are stressed, they are more susceptible to pests and diseases,” the ministry said in a press release sent by e-mail.

He said forest health is a “key priority” for the province.

“Strategies are being developed to ensure that future forests are healthy and resilient to climate change and changing weather patterns. These include using adaptive management to mitigate risk by planting a greater diversity of native species that can better tolerate drought,” he said.

Robert Guy, professor of forestry and tree physiology at the University of British Columbia, said he was « not very concerned » about the dry start to fall. He said droughts are more problematic for forest health in the spring, when growth occurs.

« Overall, I don’t think a drought at this time of year will have terrible consequences and in terms of forest growth, » Guy said. « Fires are, of course, a concern any time of the year when it’s this dry. »

However, he said recurring droughts made the trees more vulnerable to fires and insect attack.

“One summer isn’t so bad, but two or three in a row and then you start to see problems, especially with young trees. Trees whose root system does not go particularly deep are the most vulnerable to drought,” he said.

McLoughlin agreed.

« If that were to extend into the next fire season, and then maybe another season where we have two to three years in a row where we have very dry conditions, that will usually result in a very catastrophic fire year, » he said.

It’s too early to predict whether the drought will affect next season, McLoughlin said.

« We have higher drought conditions leading to the end of our fire season, which could continue into next year if we don’t see good winter rainfall and recovery from a rainfall and moisture perspective. « , did he declare. « So there is the possibility, but that doesn’t mean there is certainty that will play out. »

The BC Wildfire Service plans to release a full wildfire summary later this month.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 1, 2022.


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