Wildfire official warns Nelson: ‘Don’t get complacent’

July was not as wet as we thought, says Ron Lakeman of the Southeast Fire Centre.

It rained 27.2 mm in the West Kootenay this July

Just because this summer is not as hot as last, and just because Nelson doesn’t have a wildfire on its doorstep this year, don’t get too comfortable.

That’s the advice of Ron Lakeman of the Southeast Fire Centre in Castlegar.

“Most people will tell you that July was a wet month, but the stats suggest otherwise,” Lakeman says. “We got showers and thundershowers moving through frequently, but we didn’t get large amounts of rain.

We could still get into a drought cycle. We have had active fire seasons in September. If we were to get a hot dry couple of weeks here and get some lightning, things could be very different.”

It rained 27.2 mm this July, compared with the July norm of 48.1 mm and the record in 1998 of 143.2 mm.

In the Kootenays in July of 2015 there were 279 active fires. This year there were 41.

Frequent rain like we had last month, even though there may not be much of it, dampens the fire danger, Lakeman says.

“To have it rain every 3 to 5 days (maintains) the moisture level of the forest floor. So even though we may be getting lots of lightning we are not getting a lot of starts and we are not getting big fires because the fuel is just not that receptive.”

The highest temperature in July, 2016, was 35.9 degrees on July 29. The mean for July is 19.8 degrees, and the record is 39.9 degrees set in 2003.

Another factor that influences fire danger is the snowpack. In mid-winter the West Kootenay snowpack was normal, but because of a warm May, much of it was depleted, putting us in t he same position as last year,mediated by more rain and cooler temperatures.

In the meantime, having learned the lessons of last summer when Nelson came close to running out of water, the city changed its water bylaw in June to put us permanently on water restrictions. What used to be Level 1 water restrictions has become business as usual, year round. That means lawn watering is allowed only every second day.

On August 17 the city, the Regional District of Central Kootenay and BC Parks will hold public sessions on what they are doing to reduce fire danger and what private landowners should do.

 

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