May 10, 2013 - 7:01 AM
Several zones in the Thompson-Okanagan are already perching on high fire danger ratings, putting the B.C. wildfire management branch on edge.
Kayla Pepper, a fire information officer in Kamloops, says it's not a typical year.
"We're definitely seeing above average conditions for this time of year," Pepper says, noting Kamloops, Penticton, Lillooet, and Salmon Arm are all under the high risk category right now.
A high danger rating means forest fuels are extremely dry, making the risk of fire very serious. New fires may start easily, burn vigorously and challenge fire suppression efforts. The scale goes from very low, low, moderate, high to extreme.
The Kelowna and Vernon fire zones are currently listed as moderate, meaning forest fuels are drying out and posing an increased risk of surface fires starting. To date, there have been five fires in the Vernon zone.
While it's common to see some grass fires in May, Pepper says the outbreak of higher intensity fires over the past week in places like Kamloops are beyond what's considered normal for the region.
"It's hard to predict what the fire season will look like because so much of it is driven by the day to day: wind speeds, temperature, relative humidity," Pepper says. "And a lot of it depends on how much rain we get in June."
Forest fuels include fallen trees, brush, and organic matter like leaves and grasses. Pepper says heavy rainfall from previous years can impact fuel build-up by creating a larger volume of growth. As the vegetation dries out, it becomes fodder for forest fires.
The branch does as many prescribed and modified response burns as possible to reduce the fuel layer. They must constantly be mindful of ensuring peoples' homes and valuable timber lots remain protected.
"Often, in the southern part of B.C., there are so many people, we just can't do as much as we can in the north," Pepper says.
Environment Canada is predicting above average temperatures in southern B.C. for the months of May, June and July.
They're also predicting below average precipitation in the area.
It could be a recipe for a fiery summer, though Pepper believes people can greatly minimize the threat of forest fires.
"We've had 37 person caused fires (since the season started) and zero lightning caused," she says. "That's 37 more fires than we should have had. Those fires are preventable."
She says prohibitions will fall on May 15, restricting all open burnings larger than a camp fire. In the meantime, she reminds the public to exercise caution when dealing with fire. Many people choose to light their fires in the morning, and Pepper says weather conditions can completely shift by the afternoon with higher temperatures and greater wind speeds.
"The majority of our work has been with human caused fires," Pepper says. "I'm more concerned about that than having a hot and dry season."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)309-5230.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013