Cooler weather is giving wildfire crews some respite as they battle a number of blazes in British Columbia, but officials warn August could see more activity of fire with drier and warmer conditions expected over the next month.
Officials said they expected more new fires in the coming weeks due to “seasonal and above average” temperatures in the forecast. The warm weather follows a prolonged heat wave that increased fire risk in southern British Columbia during the last two weeks of July.
“High fire danger is expected to move south from the northern part of the province,” said Neal McLoughlin, superintendent of predictive services for the BC Wildfire Service. “The large fires that started in July will remain active through August, and further growth can be expected on these fires.”
McLoughlin said northern parts of the province have seen significant amounts of rain, but the southern half will only see smaller, isolated showers in the coming days.
“All it will take is a few days of hot, dry weather to bring us back to extreme or high temperatures. [fire risk]“, he said during a provincial briefing on Thursday.
The BC Wildfire Service said there was little overnight growth on most of the province’s six notable fires that are either highly visible or a potential threat to homes and properties.
The blaze southwest of Penticton is the exception, growing from 28 square kilometers to just over 42 square kilometers on Wednesday as high winds forced the flames down towards the community of Olalla.
Firefighters expect to release a new perimeter map after controlled burns along a flank of the blaze closest to Highway 3A on Wednesday dropped debris on the road between Keremeos and Kaleden, closing the road briefly.
Nearly 300 firefighters are assigned to the blaze, and the Forest Fire Department says cleanup of controlled burns and fire activity from Wednesday evening continues as temperatures in the south Okanagan remain cool but should climb into the 30 degrees this weekend.
As of Wednesday, there were 91 active wildfires across the province, including the six notable fires. The Forest Fire Department has reported a total of 530 fires in British Columbia since the start of the fire season, including 151 in the past seven days.
This season’s fires have burned a total of 220 square kilometers across the province, which equates to an area larger than the city of Kelowna, but a “significantly” smaller amount than the seasonal average.
As of noon Thursday, campfires are banned in southern British Columbia under orders covering the Coastal, Southeast and Kamloops fire centers.
When asked why campfires weren’t banned earlier in the season, Forestry Minister Katrine Conroy said it was lightning, not people, that was responsible for nearly three-quarters of new forest fires.
“People have been pretty careful, and we thank them for that, but we leave it to the professionals to determine when they should ban campfires,” she said Thursday.