The fires in Okanagan Mountain Park continue to burn, Wednesday night. - Kathy Michaels/Capital News

Year in review: Wildfires

This is our No. 6 year in review story.

This year’s string of wildfires had everyone nervously looking back to 2003 and once again calling the smoke filled skies the “new normal.”

Opening the BC Wildfire Service active fires map looked like the whole province had chicken pox.

The Penticton Fire Zone accounted for nearly half of the hectares burned within the Kamloops Fire Centre. There were almost 25,000 hectares burning from 106 wildfires.

More than 1.3 million hectares from 2,090 wildfires burned over the province from April 1. Of that, 28 fires burned 54,351 hectares in the Kamloops Fire Centre from the same date.

Suppression measures had BC Wildfire carrying out planned ignitions to join fires such as Munro Lake and Mount Eneas with what they called at the time “plastic spherical devises” as they dropped ping pong sized balls filled with chemicals to merge the fires.

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Highway 97 closed several times on July 19 because of the fires and heavy smoke. It later re-opened to single-lane alternating traffic between Peachland and Summerland.

Mount Eneas lit the skyline on fire, it had Peachlanders on evacuation notices and, later on, evacuation orders. It eventually reached 19,226 hectares in size and was sparked by a strike of lightning July 17.

That same day another fire had wineries along Lakeshore Road nervously looking back 15 years ago to when the valley was ablaze. Wineries such as St Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery Ltd. and Cedar Creek Estate Winery had flashbacks of when they lost everything to the fires. The Goode’s Creek fire also had homeowners evacuating their homes as it reached 1,370 hectares.

BC Wildfires suppression costs for the 2018 fiscal year stand at approximately $468 million so far whereas last year they totalled $568 million.

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Hectares burned each year has spiked, but did not surpass the record-breaking year of 2017.

Moving into 2019, communications specialist for the Kamloops Fire Centre, Jody Lucius says that BC Wildfire is already preparing.

They are currently increasing their initial attack capacity through changes to ground crew configurations, more crews and increased helicopter and airtanker capacity. The centre is also responding to the new $50-million Community Resiliency Investment program with more staff to help FireSmart communities and reduce fuel loads on the land base. The program is a partnership with the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the First Nations Emergency Services Society to help reduce the wildfire risk around communities. It allows communities to apply for funding to cover up to 100 per cent of their approved wildfire risk reduction projects compared to a maximum of 90 per cent under the previous Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative.

Prescribed burns will be utilized more frequently in areas of the province to prevent fires from growing out of control. Prescribed burns is a fuel management strategy that can be used to reduce the intensity of future wildfires in a specified area. Others include thinning, pruning and the mechanical removal of fuel.

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