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B.C. wildfire season will likely end in winter, not fall, expert says

B.C.'s record-setting fire season won’t end with the arrival of fall, but more likely winter, according to a fire science expert.

Mike Flannigan is a professor and wildfire expert at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. He has more than 30 years' experience in fire science and is expecting a long fire season.

“It’s supposed to be a warm, dry fall,” Flannigan said. “It’s not going to take a little bit of rain (to put fires out), it’s going to take a lot of rain, and ideally multiple days of rain so it can really soak in, and that’s typically winter in British Columbia.”

The 2023 fire season started in May, earlier than usual, and Flannigan said an area about half the size of Vancouver Island has so far been burned. He described this year as “uncharted territory.”

For most of the major wildfires burning, crews are using tactics to “monitor and control” the flames. Flannigan explains unless fires are extinguished early, a blaze can grow too large to be put out altogether.

“(A fire) can go from a spark to a raging inferno in like 20 minutes,” he said. “We can’t put out all the fires all the time, so we have to make appropriate decisions in a very short period of time.”

The BC Wildfire Service said it has hired hundreds of full-time firefighters this year, switching from seasonal roles to year-round positions. And front-line crews have been using a range of tactics including aerial ignitions, water bombing, infrared scanning, and hand ignitions.

Flannigan said there have also been developments in technology such as satellite modelling, artificial intelligence and drones. But with the changing climate, Canada’s wildfire seasons will continue to be hotter and drier, requiring an increasingly large response from ground crews.

“AI is another tool in our tool kit, it’s not a panacea, it’s not going to solve all of our problems,” he said. “We’ll always need the pumps and the hoses and the boots on the ground.” Top Stories

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