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.

Just Posted

Downtown Kelowna Library sponsors Sugarplum Ball

The Sugarplumball is part of the OUT in the Valley festival in November

Joe Rich firefighters raise thousands of dollars for food bank

Joe Rich firefighters out in full force last Sunday to raise money for 15th annual community food drive

Lake Country burglars on the loose after attempted robbery

Two masked individuals tried to empty the Turtle Bay Pub’s ATM on Monday morning

Canadian car crash victims to be honoured at Kelowna event

Not-for-profit “One Crash is Too Many” will be hosting event at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Orchard Parking Mall lot

Petition launched against location of new West Kelowna firehall

A Lakeview Heights resident has started an online petition

RCMP cut free activists chained to Kelowna bank, placed under arrest

The group is protesting Interior Savings Credit Union’s support of Kelowna Ribfest

Two-vehicle Okanagan crash ‘looks worse than it is’

Nobody injured in Vernon accident that happened just before 5 p.m. in middle of city

Kamloops woman sues Armstrong IPE for Slingshot mishap

Woman claims ride gone wrong caused injury, loss of wages and other damages

UPDATED: Vancouver Island’s Joe gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty case

Melissa Tooshley expected in court on Thursday in same case

Alleged drunk driver survives crash into Kettle River

The crash happened Saturday near Grand Forks

Woman ‘horrified’ after being told to trek 200 kilometres home from Kamloops hospital

‘I can’t get from Kamloops back to 100 Mile House injured, confused… no shoes, no clothes whatsoever’

Canadian universities encourage exchange students in Hong Kong to head home

UBC said 11 of its 32 students completing programs in Hong Kong have already left

Inner Peace Movement comes to Kelowna

Philip Ponchet will give two talks on Nov. 26

Most Read