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Hot weather, dry conditions mean B.C. fire activity is set to rise

A Natural Resources Canada study that looked at the impact of climate change on forests found that B.C.’s fire season will be 50 days longer by 2040.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

After a brief reprieve, the amount of wildfire activity in B.C. again looks poised to soar.

Kevin Skrepnek, a provincial fire information officer, said in an interview Sunday that last week's cooler temperatures and rain were an immense help to firefighters in the southern region of the province.

But with the scorching weather expected to return for at least another week, Mr. Skrepnek said conditions will again dry out fast. What's more, he said, central and northern B.C. have seen little rain and are at elevated fire risk.

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"We had a lot of major interface fires in southern B.C. that received a lot of precipitation and that let us make some good progress in terms of getting them contained," he said. "… We got a temporary respite and that's great, but we're expecting a return right back to 35 degrees by Tuesday in some parts of the province."

Mr. Skrepnek said the past few weeks have made for the busiest stretch for firefighters since 2010. Approximately $93-million has been spent fighting the blazes, putting the province on pace to exceed the costs from recent years. Approximately $122-million was spent last year, $133-million in 2012, and only $53-million in 2011.

August is typically the busiest wildfire period.

The province has already seen a number of fires of note this season.

About 2,500 people were forced to leave their homes earlier this month after a fire broke out near West Kelowna, though they have since been allowed to return.

More than 1,000 residents were evacuated from their homes in the small town of Hudson's Hope, though they, too, were later permitted to return.

Mr. Skrepnek said temperatures in some parts of the province have been "unprecedented," climbing to more than 40 degrees.

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"A big part of the central part of the province – the Chilcotin, Prince George, Vanderhoof, Smithers, that corridor – and the northern half of the province didn't get nearly as much rain, if any in a lot of cases. We still have a very high, elevated fire danger rating there right now," he said.

So far this season, B.C. has had more fires caused by people than those caused by lightning – about 400 of 700, or 57 per cent. The percentage of fires caused by humans last year was 30 per cent, and in 2012 it was 43 per cent. In 2011, it was 68 per cent.

Mr. Skrepnek said it is not unusual for the percentage of those types of fires to be higher earlier in the season, with lightning fires picking up in August.

Lori Daniels, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's faculty of forestry, last week told The Globe that the frequency and intensity of wildfires will only increase, due to climate change and drought.

A Natural Resources Canada study that looked at the impact of climate change on forests found that B.C.'s fire season will be 50 days longer by 2040.

Mr. Skrepnek urged British Columbians to remain vigilant as conditions dry out this week.

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"Our big concern is that with that rain in the south, people are going to get complacent. We do just want to make sure that people, if they're in the back country, we do have campfire bans in place for parts of the Kamloops and Cariboo fire centre right now. If you're in an area where campfires are allowed, we just want to make sure people are keeping them small, supervised, not leaving them unattended for any period of time," he said.

When it gets as hot as it has been, Mr. Skrepnek said, a cigarette or even the heat from an exhaust pipe can be enough to start a blaze.

With a report from Mark Hume

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