Extreme fire danger rating spreads on Vancouver Island as drought worsens

Extreme fire danger rating spreads on Vancouver Island as drought worsens

Gliding into the clear water of the Nanaimo River Monday, Caitlyn Walsh and her daughter found a brief escape from the rising heat outside.

“It’s definitely for the first couple steps, it’s a little cold, but once you’re in and you get used to it, it’s nice,” said Caitlyn Walsh, a Nanaimo resident.

But Walsh said even more striking than the beautiful setting is what’s happening to the river. Ongoing drought conditions, which are being called unprecedented by the BC River Forecast Centre, are quickly dropping water levels on the river.

“We started coming here at the beginning of last week, and it was quite a bit higher. I can definitely see where the water level was. It has dropped quite a bit,” said Walsh.

The drought is visible in Vancouver Island forests as well.

“The leaves would have a  level of moisture naturally, and you don’t see that anymore,” said Deborah Short of Merry Puppins Dog Walking, as she walked dogs through Nanaimo’s Morrell Nature Sanctuary.

“The leaves are all curled up and everything is very dry underfoot,” said Short.

The dry out of forests has happened so quickly in 2023 that much of Vancouver Island is already rated under an extreme fire danger just days into July.

“With the drought earlier this year, a lot is more advanced than we’d expect to see them right now in an average year for the Island,” said BC Wildfire Service fire information officer Gordon Robinson.

READ ALSO: Two out-of-control wildfires on Island; one east of Bamfield, another south of Sayward

According to the BC Wildfire Service, as of Monday (July 3), there had been 54 wildfires on Vancouver Island so far this season, and all were considered human caused or under investigation. So with an extended stretch of heat ahead and already advanced drought, there are growing calls for people to take extra care in the wilderness.

“We’re well-resourced to respond to fires right now, we haven’t had that many fires so far this season. But if we get human caused fires occurring simultaneously with lightning fires, the resources we use on those are ones we can’t use on the natural ones,” said Robinson.

As summer begins to heat up on Vancouver Island, there’s no rain in sight.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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