Early start to wildfire season could make for record-breaking year | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Early start to wildfire season could make for record-breaking year

July 06, 2021 - 6:30 AM

With record breaking heat last week came the real start to what may be shaping up to be a record-breaking forest fire season this year.

As of yesterday, July 4, almost 90,000 hectares for forests have burned in B.C. this year, with the largest being the Sparks Lake fire near Kamloops accounting for more than one-third of that destruction.

“We are seeing this season starting a little earlier given the extreme temperatures,” provincial fire information officer Erika Berg told iNFOnews.ca. “Whether this will continue to the same degree throughout the year, that’s something we can’t predict too far ahead.”

Already the acreage burned this year has surpassed the last two years combined. There were only 14,536 ha burned last year and 21,138 ha in 2019.

And the bigger fires have started earlier than the record-setting 2018 fire season when 1.35 million hectares burned.

Most of that, 837,379 ha, were burnt in the Northwest fire district. Only 55,062 ha were burnt in the Kamloops fire district.

But, while the fire season runs from April 1 to Oct. 1, the earliest any “notable wildfire” started in 2018 was Verdun Mountain, south of Burns Lake. It was started by lightning on July 12, 2018 and burned 47,610 ha., according to the Ministry of Forests Wildfire Season Summary for that year.

Notable fires in the Kamloops district didn’t start until July 17 in 2018 when lightning caused five fires.

These were the Goode’s Creek fire south of Kelowna, Mount Eneas south of Peachland, Mount Conkle southwest of Summerland, Snowy Mountain south of Keremeos and Placer Mountain south of Princeton.

Together, they burned close to 25,000 ha., the largest being the Snowy Mountain fire at 19,226 ha.

The 2017 fire season was the second worst on record at more than 1.2 million hectares.

The worst of it kicked off in early July, but even that was late compared to this year. The Sparks Lake fire was discovered on June 28.

The Ministry of Forests Wildfire Season Summary doesn’t break out the amount burned by fire district in 2017 but the Kamloops centre had a bad year, with the seven notable fires listed in the report totalling almost 214,000 ha.

The largest was the Elephant Hill fire that ranged from Ashcroft to Highway 24 and burned 191,865 ha.

The smallest was Fountain Valley Road, east of Lillooet. It was discovered May 28. It burned only 30 ha but was notable because it triggered evacuation orders.

In the Okanagan, the Philpott Road fire, just east of Kelowna burned 465 ha while the Finlay Creek fire southwest of Peachland burned 2,224 ha.

Over the past 10 years, an average of 348,917 ha of forest have burned in B.C. each year.

The largest fire in Canadian history started in B.C. in 1950 and spread to Alberta.

The Chinchaga fire (also known as the Wisp fire) started north of Fort St. John. It was human caused with speculation it was an oil surveying crew starting a small fire to protect their horses from biting insects. Another version puts it down to slash burning.

It started on June 1, 1950 and was mostly left to burn in unpopulated areas until the end of October when it reached almost to Keg River, Alberta.

Estimates vary from 1.2 to 1.7 million hectares burned. The B.C. government lists it at 1.4 million hectares but only 90,000 were in B.C.

Annual fire summary reports can be seen here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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