As northeastern B.C. burns, Vancouver Island’s drought drama may play out later in the summer

As northeastern B.C. burns, Vancouver Island's drought drama may play out later in the summer

Following record drought, the wildfire season in northeastern B.C. is starting abnormally early, but conditions on Vancouver Island are more encouraging for now.

No homes have been lost as a wildfire nudges toward the northeastern B.C. community of Fort Nelson. Approximately 4,700 people from the community and neighbouring First Nation remain under an evacuation order due to the 84-square-kilometre Parker Lake fire burning just a few kilometres west of town.

On Monday, evacuation orders were issued for the Doig River First Nation and part of the Peace River Regional District as a separate 597-hectare fire burns near the community about 70 kilometres northeast of Fort St. John. The district told residents to grab what they needed and drive south to an evacuation centre in Fort St. John.

“Everyone wants answers, but there are no answers. It’s just weather-dependent, end of story,” said Laura Botcher, who was forced out of her home with her son Friday night and doesn’t know how long it’ll be until her young family can go home.

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An update from Doig River First Nation Tuesday said the area is seeing an increase in humidity and lower temperatures, “which is promising, but we are remaining vigilant.”

Nine hours east in Alberta, residents of Fort McMurray are also on high alert. Hundreds of residents from four neighbourhoods have been ordered to leave to clear room to fight the fire, which has moved to within 13 kilometres of the city.

A fire close to Cranberry Portage in northwest Manitoba forced about 550 residents from their homes.

‘Zombie’ fires amplifying challenges for crews

Thousands of hectares in northeastern B.C. are burning from ‘holdover’ fires, also known as ‘zombie’ fires, a legacy of last year’s record-setting weather conditions.

“This is actually quite an anomalous year, and part of it is just because of how extreme it’s been in the north for essentially two years now. They have those holdovers fires continue over two winters is really unprecedented, as far as I know,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre.

The zombie fires are amplifying challenges for crews fighting the Parker Lake wildfire, burning just outside Fort Nelson.

“The drought is remarkable, and the risk is very real,” said Premier David Eby in a press conference Tuesday.

Less dire fires on Vancouver Island

Things on Vancouver Island are less dire right now. The only fire burning on the Island, just inland from Oyster Bay, is under control.

“So far this season on the coast, we have had 19 fires, with six of those on Vancouver Island,” said Sam Bellion, a Coastal Fire Centre information officer.

And while sections of northeastern B.C. are at a drought level of 4 or 5, the Island is sitting at a low level 1.

“The reason is, we got a little bit more precipitation than up north where it was just too cold for rain,” said Boyd. “Things are about normal or slightly above normal for this time for Vancouver Island.”

Island’s drought drama typically happens later

The Island isn’t out of the woods yet. Boyd says the drought drama typically plays out here in July and August when the Island is at its driest.

“That’s also when we experience the greatest effects of drought, and that’s because that’s when rivers are at their lowest. It’s also when agriculture needs the water the most, and fish are needing the creeks and rivers,” said Boyd.

The key control for what will come in terms of wildfires and drought on Vancouver Island is what happens in our skies.

“The weather decides,” said Boyd.

The weather will also be pivotal in determining what will happen to the wildfires burning to the northeast.

“The situation is still very fluid and very dependent on weather over the next 24 hours,” Eby said.


-With files from The Canadian Press

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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