July 17, 2013 - 5:00 AM
FIRE DANGER RATINGS EXPECTED TO INCREASE
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - As the mercury rises this week, so will the risk of fire in the Thompson-Okanagan.
Everywhere south of Summerland down to the U.S. border is already sitting at a high fire danger rating while Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna are listed as moderate. Salmon Arm, in the Shuswap area, is also rated high at the moment.
"As temperatures continue to rise in the next week, we're expecting the fire danger ratings to increase," says fire information officer Kayla Pepper of the Wildfire Management Branch.
With almost no precipitation in the forecast and a risk of lightning, Pepper is hoping the public will be extra vigilant over the next week.
Firefighters battled a 2.2 hectare blaze in Ellison Provincial Park which broke out Sunday, and Pepper says they do not want a repeat. About 250 campers had to be evacuated from the campground, and there were concerns the fire might spread to nearby houses. Between a quick firefighter response, a drizzle of rain, and the use of the park's trails as natural fire barriers, the blaze was snuffed out in short order.
Despite several days of heavy rain that passed over the region in June, Pepper says the precipitation wasn't enough to have a big impact on reducing the risk of wildfire.
"While most of our predictions are day to day, June rains can set up how our fire season goes. If we see a lot of rain in a short period of time, like we did this year, that doesn't have as much impact as more moderate rain over a longer amount of time. It doesn't permeate the ground as deeply," Pepper says.
A quick drenching can also have the effect of stimulating vegetation growth, which, when followed by a long dry spell, creates a lot of "cured" plant matter that acts as fuel for wildfires later in the season.
Some models are predicting a hotter, drier summer which would lead to a riskier fire season. But conditions can change quickly, and Pepper says it's impossible to know what to expect. What people can do, she says, is not start any fires. In a typical summer, human-caused fires account for half the total wildfires, with lightning being responsible for the rest. Cigarette butts, campfires and the exhaust pipes of quads can all ignite forest fires. Every time someone drops a cigarette or turns their back on a campfire and a wildfire starts, response crews are put at risk.
Steve Olsen, incident commander with the Wildfire Management branch in Vernon, says he's been noticing the fire season being pushed later into the summer over the past few years.
"A lot of fires are starting in August or September," he says. "It's more challenging then, because there's more cured vegetation."
Pepper has also picked up on the pattern of fires starting later in the season, noting they can be more severe. While there are management efforts to clean up and reduce forest fuels, Pepper says it's pretty much impossible to carry out efforts at all private and Crown lands across the province.
You can find updates on fires at the B.C. Forest Fire Info Facebook page, something Pepper also uses for educational purposes.
"It's a great way to open up a dialogue with people," she says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013