VANCOUVER - A relentless heat wave and the soaring risk of more wildfires across British Columbia have forced the government to take extraordinary steps to preserve water and suspend fishing in parts of the province while imposing a total ban on open burning.
The Forests Ministry has announced a Level 4 drought rating for southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, meaning water supplies are insufficient to meet the needs of communities and ecosystems.
All fishing has been suspended in streams and rivers in that area because of low river levels and high water temperatures.
The ministry says it is watching 75 other key angling streams across B.C., and that the fishing ban could be extended if conditions warrant.
"It is important that we are able to react quickly to protect vulnerable fish stocks," Forests Minister Steve Thomson said Friday in a news release.
Usually moist Haida Gwaii, as well as Metro Vancouver, the Sea to Sky and Sunshine Coast areas, the Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon are all at a Level 3 drought rating, requiring residents to try and cut water use by another 20 per cent over regular reductions.
Metro Vancouver has responded to the record-breaking heat wave by moving the region to the second stage of its four-stage plan to handle water shortages.
Lawn sprinkling is now only permitted in the morning and should be restricted to once per week, while all commercial and public fountains and water features must be turned off. Only water parks with user-activated switches are allowed, while health and safety are the only permitted reasons for private or commercial washing of driveways, sidewalks and parkades.
Earlier on Friday, the Forests Ministry took the rare step of imposing a provincewide, immediate ban on all open burning.
Thomson said the ban will remain in effect until further notice and covers everything from campfires to fireworks, tiki torches and even exploding targets used for rifle practice.
"Given the hot and dry conditions in most of the province, we are implementing this provincewide campfire ban to help protect our communities," he said.
Only the area known as the fog zone, a narrow strip along the extreme west coast of Vancouver Island, is exempt.
Gas, propane or briquette cooking stoves, as well as CSA-approved portable campfire systems with flames of 15 centimetres or less are still allowed, but the province says that could change if dry conditions persist.
"We currently have 172 fires burning in the province," Thomson said. "The long-term strategic outlook projects we will have 250 to 300 new wildfires over the next 10 days, well above the normal average for the same period.
Penalties for violating the ban begin with a $345 ticket and could include an administrative penalty of $10,000 plus fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail.