Wildfire in pine beetle-attacked forest at Eutsuk Lake in northern B.C., 2014. (Black Press files)

B.C.’s 2019 forest fire season off to a slow, wet start

‘New normal’ of widespread wildfires fails to appear so far

After two consecutive record forest fire seasons, B.C. emergency officials are seeing a slow start to the 2019 B.C. wildfire season, with wet conditions in the south and high fire risk only in the remote northwest.

Former B.C. cabinet minister George Abbott’s review of the 2017 fire season was called “Addressing the New Normal” of smoke-filled skies. The report was released last year as a second summer of evacuation alerts and scorched timber gathered steam.

This summer has started with the old normal, weather unpredictability. After a second straight cold winter with lower than average snowpacks, a dry spring has given way to heavy rain across the more populous parts of B.C.

In the Cariboo, the B.C. River Forecast Centre declared a flood warning for the Chilcotin River this week after 90 mm of rain fell in four days. It was the first flood warning issued since January, upending another recent trend of early flooding followed by dry conditions.

Heavy rains also fell through the Prince George area. In the Peace region, the early-season grass and forest fires of previous years were replaced by late-season snow that appeared as late as June.

The total area burned as of this week was just under 120 square km, a tiny fraction of the total from last year at this time. The biggest current B.C. fire, at Alkali Lake near the Yukon border, is actually a cluster of seven deep-burning “holdover” fires from last year’s Telegraph Creek blaze on the east side of the Stikine River.

There has been a scattering of small fires sparked by lightning on Vancouver Island and in the Kootenay region, with thunderstorms often including significant rainfall. Statistics from previous years suggest that if wet weather carries on further into summer, the wildfire window is reduced along with the period for forests to dry out.

Fires and salvage logging have reduced much of the timber killed in B.C.’s latest mountain pine beetle epidemic, with timber harvest reduced from artificially high levels of recent years.

After a recent tour of northern regions affected by forest industry shutdowns, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad said he observed widespread signs of spruce beetle infestation, with “red attack” and “grey attack” stands visible north of Prince George. That represents a new risk for fast-spreading fires as well as an additional threat to B.C.’s struggling forest products industry.

The province is continuing work on preparations for flooding and forest fires, following the 2018 recommendations from Abbott and former Sto:lo Nation chief Maureen Chapman.

RELATED: Emergency preparation fund gets $31M boost

RELATED: Chilcotin River flood warning after heavy rain

That report focused on fire and flood prevention and preparations, especially improving communications with remote communities. As part of the response, the B.C. government added $31 million to a community emergency preparedness fund for local governments and Indigenous communities, bringing the total funding to $69.5 million.

B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer’s 2018 report on B.C.’s management of climate change risks reinforced the findings of Abbott and Chapman, that intense flood and wildfire seasons will become more common as the climate changes.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read