UPDATE: 11:30 a.m.
While cooler spring temperatures helped slow the start of B.C.'s wildfire season, two weeks of hot temperatures have ramped up the fire danger across the southern half of the province. And above-average temperatures are expected to continue through September.
The province hosted a wildfire update Thursday morning, providing a seasonal forecast for the rest of the summer.
Neil McLoughlin, superintendent of predictive services with the BC Wildfire Service, said hotter temperatures are forecast to continue in B.C. through mid-September, which will likely result in more wildfires being sparked.
“In the past week there is about 149 new fire starts and we would expect similar number of fire starts through the month of August,” McLoughlin said. Of these new starts, 121 are now classified as held, under control, or out.
He noted this fire season is trending similar to 2020 and 2011, so far.
Over the past week, a number of large fires have popped up in the Southern Interior, and there are now six “fires of note” in the province. The shift in fire conditions occurred in the last half of July, due to a ridge of high pressure that brought some of the hottest temperatures of the year to southern B.C.
“That prolonged hot, dry spell steadily cured our fuel and it increased our fire danger across the province,” McLoughlin said.
From July 14 to July 27, the ease of ignition and potential for rapid fire growth and high fire intensities “increased significantly” across most of the province, according to McLoughlin's data.
When that high-pressure ridge broke down at the end of July, it brought lightning storms and high winds. About 35,000 lightning strikes were recorded in B.C. in the last week of July, and 121 new fires were sparked during that period.
“As those winds aligned with terrain, it resulted in fast spreading fires and aggressive behaviour that was challenging to fight fire in,” he said.
But despite the uptick in fire activity over the past week or so, this year's fire season remains less severe than the province's 20-year average, and far better than 2021. To date, just 22,000 hectares of land has been burned in the province this year, which is about 20% of B.C.'s 20-year average for this time of year. And at this time last year, more than 570,000 hectares had been burned.
“This is mostly due to the fact that we had above normal over-winter precipitation amounts, cool temperatures in the spring, late snow melt and really a late start to the fire season,” McLoughlin said.
“We've had a two-week dry spell which has increased fire danger, but nothing compared to over a month of drying which we've seen in previous years.”
There remains 91 active fires burning in the province. The Nohomin Creek fire, burning northwest of Lytton, is the province's largest fire, at about 3,700 hectares. There are 326 properties under an evacuation order, but at this time last year, close to 4,300 B.C. properties were evacuated.