B.C. wildfire season off to slower start — except in the northeast

For most of the province, this year’s wildfire season is off to a slower start than last year — except in northeastern B.C. 

Emilie Peacock, a fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said most of the province is seeing a “quiet” start to the fire season, with the exception of the Prince George region. While fewer wildfires have started this year compared to last year, she said it’s unclear what the summer will bring. 

“Overall, this year, we have had a less busy spring. We’re very thankful for that,” she said. “What’s to come this summer depends on how much rain we see for the rest of the month.”

So far this year, 209 wildfires have started, and 179 have been extinguished, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. That’s down from the same time last year when the number of wildfire starts was 393.

The province’s data shows nearly 3,220 square kilometres have burned since April 1. That’s almost 80 per cent of the average area burned in an entire year from 2012-2022 — about  4,070 square kilometres — according to the B.C. government.

Peacock said it’s difficult to compare the number and size of fires each season because it can vary “quite significantly” from year to year. She said the size of a wildfire is just one of several ways to assess the impact of a wildfire season. The number of evacuations is another.

“We could have a really busy fire year, and then the next year could be quieter,” she said. She said the size and number of wildfires depend on short-term weather conditions, including heat, rainfall and wildfire-sparking lightning.

According to Natural Resources Canada, researchers expect climate change will result in more frequent wildfires and hot and dry weather, contributing to fire intensity.

Black and grey burned trees against a blue sky, along a roadway.
In May, wildfires burned near Fort Nelson, B.C., causing residents to evacuate. (Benoit Ferradini/CBC/Radio-Canada)

The Prince George region of northeastern B.C. has seen most of the province’s wildfires this year. Last month, the Parker Lake wildfire caused the Fort Nelson First Nation and Fort Nelson residents to evacuate their homes. A separate wildfire also caused the Doig River First Nation members to evacuate from their homes. 

Also, in northeastern B.C., the Nogah Creek and Patry Creek wildfires are still burning out of control. As of Monday, they are 987 square kilometres and 673 square kilometres in size, respectively.

Low snowpack continues

Dave Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre, said snowpack levels are about 57 per cent of what’s normal for this time of year. It’s up from 29 per cent in June 2023, he said, but still low. 

Campbell said last year, low snowpack meant less water was flowing into streams and rivers late in the season, contributing to drought. 

This year, there was less snow than usual over the winter and hot temperatures early in May caused lots of melt. While cooler temperatures last month let a little more snow accumulate, Campbell said it wasn’t enough to bring levels back to normal. 

“It’s not great. It does follow the broader pattern of the low snowpack,” he said. “[Snow pack] is a factor that’s pushing the hazard up for drought this year.”

‘We’re expecting a long fire season’

After rain last month helped firefighters get the Parker Lake Wildfire under control, nearby residents were able to return to their homes. Northern Rockies Regional Municipality Mayor Rob Fraser said businesses are back up and running, and the community is “feeling much better.”

WATCH: Fort Nelson wildfire evacuees return home:

Fort Nelson, B.C., residents return home after wildfires contained

14 days ago

Duration 2:01

Thousands of Fort Nelson, B.C., residents have started returning home, after wildfires forced an evacuation more than two weeks ago. As Karin Larsen reports, both the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and the Fort Nelson First Nation have rescinded their evacuation orders. But as residents return, many are aware the wildfire threat this season is far from over.

Still, Fraser said while recent rain has helped keep wildfires under control, the region is still facing the most severe drought conditions.

“We’re expecting a long fire season this year,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has unpacked their RVs, I don’t think anybody has unpacked their three-day travel bag. I think everybody is just cautiously anticipating what might come this summer.”


Posted in CBC