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BC Wildfire anticipates less fire activity; downsizing air fleet

B.C. Wildfire Service is downsizing its air fleet, but the need for firefighters persists as the fire season continues toward September.
August 24, 2021 - 4:00 PM

In anticipation of more fall-like conditions and less fire activity, B.C. Wildfire Service is downsizing its use of assets, including air support and structure protection crews.

"We'll continue to see some of the downsizing of several key assets we have — helicopters, air tankers and structure protection — and that's just an indication that things are progressing well on the fires," manager of wildfire operations for the wildfire service, Todd Nessman, said at an Aug. 24 provincial wildfire update.

"In terms of the outlook, we're feeling reasonably confident moving into August. We're starting to see some of the effects of fall coming in to help us."

An air fleet that included around 170 units last week has been downsized to near 100 units this week, not including air tankers. Nessman said there are around 30 air tankers in the province now.

The wildfire service is downsizing the air fleet and structural protection crews, but continues to seek firefighters to work on the ground. There are between 3,400 and 3,500 firefighters in the province, which includes 1,150 contractors and 500 firefighters from outside of B.C.

READ MORE: New wildfire on Westside Road near West Kelowna prompts evacuations

Within Canada, that figure includes 153 firefighters from Quebec, 45 from Yukon and around 45 from Parks Canada.

Australian firefighters flown in to assist with wildfires in B.C. will be heading home this weekend, while Mexican firefighters will remain into early September, Nessman said. He added that the province still has a "significant need" for more firefighters.

Fire activity in the Kamloops area was slowed in recent days, especially at the Tremont Creek and Sparks Lake wildfires. While the rain can present only a temporary benefit for crews on the ground amid what has been a dry summer, cooler temperatures in the Okanagan offer reprieve to crews battling what has been an aggressive fire season.

In Kamloops, temperatures are expected to reach 27 Celsius and 26 C in Kelowna on Aug. 25. But throughout the week, nighttime temperatures are not expected to reach above 13 C in either city, according to Environment Canada. There is a chance of rain in Kamloops and the Okanagan overnight on Aug. 26.

READ MORE: COVID and wildfires creating health care crisis in Kamloops, Okanagan

"There are some pockets where we still have some elevated fire behaviour. Until we see a significant amount of precipitation in those areas... we have to be cautious," Nessman said.

Regions like the Cariboo, Thompson and Okanagan will continue to see drier conditions than other parts of the province, and the wildfire service will remain particularly watchful in those regions.

So far, wildfires in B.C. have burned 863,000 hectares in 2021, more than double last months figure when, as of July 25, nearly 414,000 hectares had been burned.

That figure is still shy have B.C.'s worst fire years, with both 2017 and 2018 totalling over one million hectares burned by wildfires.

B.C. Wildfire Service currently lists 23 fires of note across the province, 14 of those are within the Kamloops Fire Centre. In total, there are 249 wildfires burning across the province, with 1,546 throughout the year.

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