THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - A total of 169, or 49.9 per cent, of all wildfires in the Kamloops Fire Centre have been human-caused this year.
Kayla Pepper of B.C. Wildfire says of the 339 fires in the fire centre we are about as close to half as you can get right now, though usually lightning fires outnumber human-caused fire by a much wider margin.
“Maybe it’s a bad sign we’ve had too many person caused fires this season,” she says.
In total those 339 fires have burned more than 3,600 hectares and 25 of them were fires of note — either more than 10 hectares or close to homes and categorized as an interface fire. That is well below the 10-year average of 500 fires and 9,650 ha, though it should be noted those statistics include the 2009 fire season, which was a very busy year.
“The numbers show a below average season, but July was extreme like in 2009,” Pepper notes. “We had quite a few large project fires, something we hadn’t experienced in recent years. So the peak was more aggressive, but the numbers are still below average.”
While the local fire centre has the second highest number of fires in the province, it is still a small portion of the more than 1,400 fires that have burned nearly 360,000 ha in B.C. so far this fire season. More than 345,000 ha have been in the Northwest and Prince George Fire Centres alone. Crews from across Canada and Australia were in B.C. to help combat the large number of fires during the peak as well.
In July, the height of fire activity in the fire centre, crews battled extreme fire conditions at several fires and six separate fires caused evacuations. The largest fire, a more than 1,200 ha fire near Lytton, saw more than 170 Kamloops firefighters on scene, plus other fire departments and contractors totalling about 400 people. Pepper says the Smith Creek fire saw an even higher number of firefighters.
The Kamloops Fire Centre employs more than 250 firefighters, as well as ‘overhead’ staff such as communications and supervisory staff, and also works with many contractors, from other firefighters to heavy equipment operators and helicopter outfitters. Even with those number there have been no major injuries this season in the fire centre.
“We have seven unit crews, 27 initial attack crews and 12 rap attack crews,” Pepper says. “We still have about half our crews until Oct. 31… they will continue to patrol fires, start fuel management work…. They don’t sit idle.”
Pepper notes they have moved to longer contracts with firefighters because the fire season tends to be longer now and it provides opportunities for additional training.
As it continues to cool down B.C. Wildfire will work on ecosystem restoration and controlled burns to help mitigate forest fire risk. With the prohibition on open burning set to be lifted across the region, they will be keeping an eye out for wildfires caused by open burning as well.
“Our big push right now is to be safe with open burning, we want people to be safe, and we don’t want to be called out,” she says. “We also like to remind the public going into fall we’ll be doing ecosystem and prescribed burns, so they’ll see smoke, but good smoke.”
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