The Southeast Fire Centre is reporting that lightning-caused forest fires have proliferated province-wide, with 283 of the 340 fires in their area caused by electric storms since April — over quintuple the number of human-caused fires, which are also up.
“Usually we have about a 50-50 split between lightning-caused and human-caused fires, but now it’s a proportion that’s not balanced,” said information officer Fanny Bernard.
“In 2014 we had 70 fires by July 20, 35 human-caused and 35 lightning-caused. This year we have 283 caused by lightning and 57 that were human-caused.”
She said the lack of precipitation in June has been exacerbating the issue, and though sporadic showers have occurred throughout the area, it hasn’t been enough to extinguish the fires that continue to rage in the West Kootenay.
“This is nothing compared to what we normally get. This little bit of precipitation we’re getting once in a while, sporadically, is not enough to change the fire danger rating,” she said.
A campfire ban remains in place.
On Tuesday morning Bernard told the Star 53 new spot fires had started in their area overnight, but none of them were threatening communities or structures. She said the fires range in size from one tree to a half-hectare.
“They are all being monitored and prioritized,” she said.
Rain would be welcome, she said.
“We need a lot of consistent days of heavy rainfall to really affect the moisture content of the soil. It’s very, very dry out there right now.”
And this will probably continue, she said.
“There’s more lightning in the forecast.”
Currently a 22-hectare fire on the east shore of Kootenay Lake is being attacked by a 20-person unit crew and some contractors with three pieces of heavy machinery and a helicopter.
The fire is north of Akokli Creek east of Boswell.
On Saturday the famous Martin Mars assisted crews on the Akokli fire and helped establish a wet line east of Highway 3A, while it was still only seven hectares.
Fire information officer Karlie Shaughnessy said the BC Wildfire branch brought in the Martin Mars for one day only and it has departed back to its base in Port Alberni.
“It was the right tool for the job,” she said.
Shaughnessy explained the fire is on very steep terrain making it difficult to get water tenders and heavy equipment to the fire line.
Air tankers tried to lay retardant on the fire but the retardant rolled off the steep slope and was ineffective for a secure control line.
Meanwhile the Sitkum Creek fire, formerly estimated at approximately 600 hectares, has now been estimated at 770 hectares due to more thorough mapping and the burn-out operations.
Bernard said it is 50 per cent contained, and more small-scale burnouts are planned.
Currently there are three 20-person unit crews working, using two helicopters with 10 support staff.
“Crews are working toward containment. A fire that size is not one big uniform burnt-out area. There’s a lot of patchy fires over a large area. They’ve been burning any unburned fuel within the perimeter to prevent it from re-igniting.”
She said the Sitkum fire will continue to burn until it experiences a heavy rainfall, but it’s no longer moving towards homes.
“There hasn’t been any growth towards homes. Most of the burn-outs were done on the west flank, and the last one was on the north flank. That was putting out a lot of smoke, but there was no new growth.”
For the latest information on current wildfire activity, burning restrictions, road closures and air quality advisories, go to www.bcwildfire.ca.