British Columbia wildfire officials are warning of an uptick in lightning-caused wildfires later this week as the province heads into the hottest, driest stretch of the summer.
Cliff Chapman, operations director for the BC Wildfire Service, says the lightning that’s expected to be “widespread” across the province is more likely to hit higher, mountainous terrain, but strikes are also possible in or around communities.
Chapman told a news conference it’s still early in the summer and wildfires have already scorched nearly 10,500 square kilometres of land in the province.
That represents the third-highest burned area ever recorded in B.C., and Chapman says he believes it’s possible 2023 may surpass the previous record.
Matt MacDonald, the service’s lead forecaster, says there’s no relief in sight from persistent drought conditions, and small amounts of rain won’t be enough to reduce the stress in B.C.’s forests.
MacDonald told the briefing that the role of climate change cannot be ignored in assessing heat waves, drought and wildfire conditions in the province.
“We’re seeing exactly what climate change experts have been alerting us to, which is a higher frequency of extreme weather events,” he said, noting seven of the province’s 10 busiest wildfire seasons on record have occurred in the last decade.
Both officials emphasized the importance of detecting fires quickly after they start. Chapman thanked members of the public for making reports that helped crews douse or hold three dozen out of more than 40 new blazes sparked over the Canada Day long weekend, the majority of which were caused by lightning, he said.
Additional campfire bans are on the way in response to the increasing risk.
As of noon on Friday, Chapman said campfires will no longer be permitted in the Kamloops Fire Centre and all areas of the Coastal Fire Centre, except Haida Gwaii.
Campfires have been banned since last month across the Prince George Fire Centre and in the driest sections of the Northwest and Coastal fire centres, including Vancouver Island.
Campfires no larger than half-a-metre by half-a-metre are permitted in the Cariboo and Southeast fire centres, where wildfire danger is mostly ranked as moderate.
More than 100 blazes are currently burning across the province, including a 5,715-square-kilometre fire south of Fort Nelson that’s the largest ever recorded in B.C.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.