The Octopus Creek wildfire seen from Edgewood on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jeannie Little
The Octopus Creek wildfire seen from Edgewood on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jeannie Little

The Octopus Creek wildfire seen from Edgewood on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jeannie Little The Octopus Creek wildfire seen from Edgewood on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jeannie Little

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW: Climate change hits home in Nelson

It was a year of wildfires, record-setting heat and drought

Climate scientists make a distinction between weather and climate. A snowstorm in a desert is a rare weather event in a routinely dry climate. A single unusual weather event is not proof of anything, but when they start to pile up, when they start to get more extreme, more frequent and less predictable, it’s time for some new thinking about the climate.

Some of us started doing that this summer in the West Kootenay as we faced destructive wildfires, dangerous smoke, record-breaking heat and almost no rain for months.


Following a severe wildfire season in 2018, the West Kootenay had another in 2021 with hundreds of people packing up and leaving their homes, ordered out by emergency management officials.

The Trozzo Creek wildfire, the closest one to Nelson, was only 13 kilometres away in the Slocan Valley. It prompted an evacuation alert for 277 properties in the Appledale and Lemon Creek areas, and an evacuation order for 172 properties.

On east side of the main arm of Kootenay Lake, the Akokli Creek fire threatened Boswell and area leading to evacuation alerts, and on the west side of the lake, the Cultus Creek fire was dealt with as a modified response fire, meaning that firefighters monitored it but did not fight it because of its remoteness.

To the west, on either shore of Lower Arrow Lake, the Octopus Creek and Michaud Creek fires caused evacuations and disruptions of life in and around the communities of Fauquier and Edgewood.

The City of Castlegar had a close call in the early summer when the Merry Creek wildfire caused the evacuation of 31 properties including a seniors home.


Those fires, and others further afield, created unprecedented (perhaps the year’s most-used word in weather stories) pall of smoke in the West Kootenay, resulting in the worst air quality in Canada on July 26.

West Kootenay residents are accustomed to a few smoky days every few years, but this year the smoke was so dense and prolonged that health experts began warning of the severe effects of frequent, long-term wildfire smoke exposure.


The same week that Lytton set a national heat record of 49.6 C on June 29, the Castlegar weather station recorded temperatures of 43.9 on June 30 and 41.8 C on July 1, all-time records for both months.

The average temperature for July in Castlegar was 24.7 C, also a record, up from 20.2 C previously for that month.

“We’ve never seen it this hot before for as long as we’ve been taking records,” said Jesse Ellis, fire weather forecaster at the Southeast Fire Centre. “That is notable. That’s remarkable.”

The BC Coroner Service has reported that during the period June 20 to July 29 there were 539 heat-related deaths in B.C., a 300 per cent increase over previous years.

In Nelson, emergency physician Dr. Kyle Merritt stated that he and other doctors were beginning to see patients whose health was being compromised by the effects of extreme heat and smoke, and he did not hesitate to describe this as the health effects of climate change.


Total precipitation in Castlegar in July was 0.8 mm, all received on July 7. The normal amount of rain for July is 48.1 mm. This was the sixth consecutive month with below-normal precipitation.

“That’s what contributed to the the fire season that we saw,” said Ellis, adding it was the unusual length of the period of below-average precipitation that was notable for him.

“Any trend that involves prolonging a type of weather, is going to be a trend that is going to be disruptive,” he said. “I’m not a climatologist, but that’s what the climatologists say about climate change, is that it’s all about seeing those extreme events becoming more common.”


Extreme rainfall, temperatures in July were ‘a big deal,’ says West Kootenay weather forecaster

In 2021, wildfires in B.C. have burned more land than all of P.E.I.

West Kootenay has Canada’s worst air quality

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2021 Year in Review