B.C. wildfire situation 'static,' but worst may lie ahead: officials
Wildfires are seen from a Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau views areas affected by wildfire near Williams Lake, B.C., on Monday, July 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Published Monday, August 7, 2017 2:24PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, August 7, 2017 3:21PM PDT
Officials in British Columbia are crediting a number of restrictions for a decrease in new wildfire activity over the long weekend, but say the worst may be yet to come.
As of Monday afternoon, crews were battling 130 fires across the province, chief wildfire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told reporters.
Only seven of those fires broke out on Saturday and three evacuation orders have been lifted around Williams Lake, according to Emergency Management BC.
Skrepnek, however, is urging residents in affected areas to remain vigilant, warning that August is traditionally the most dangerous month for wildfires.
“We’re definitely concerned that people are going to start getting complacent,” he said. “In all likelihood, our situation is going to be getting worse before it starts getting better.”
While the daily number of new wildfires appears to have hit a plateau, tinder-dry conditions are expected to persist until at least the end of the week, making the situation as unpredictable as ever.
Inflow winds and a low pressure system expected to move into the province on the weekend could bring cooler temperatures and a greater chance of rain that could significantly change the wildfire situation in the province.
Until then, an air quality advisory that is in place for the Lower Mainland and many other parts of the province is also likely to remain in effect.
On Tuesday, Metro Vancouver and Environment Canada both issued air quality statements urging residents to take precautions as changing winds blew smoke from the Interior towards coastal B.C.
Children, seniors and those with chronic conditions are most at risk of experiencing symptoms associated with the smoke in the air, which is shrouding the top of the North Shore mountains and obscuring parts of Vancouver’s skyline. Residents are urged to stay cool and hydrated and seek medical attention if they experience shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing or chest pain.
Officials are also advising people to avoid the outdoors if possible between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and to check in on at-risk people who live alone.
Monday marked exactly one month since the B.C. government declared a province-wide state of emergency after more than 140 wildfires broke out in a single day. The measure was extended for a second time on Friday and will last until at least Aug. 18.
Since April 1, 904 wildfires have scorched 5,780 square kilometres of land, in what officials are calling the most destructive wildfire season since 1958. Fire suppression efforts have cost the province $234 million so far this year.
Nearly 3,800 personnel are working night and day to get the wildfires under control, including 700 firefighters from outside B.C. and 1,500 contract crew members.
The BC Wildfire service announced this weekend that 400 more firefighters will be arriving from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the United Sates.
Skrepnek said that, as long as the fire risk in the province remains at current levels, campfire restrictions and a ban on all recreational off-road vehicles from Crown land in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast fire centres will remain in effect.
Under provincial law, the maximum fine for disobeying a fire ban is $1,150. Those found responsible in court for starting a wildfire could be fined up to $1 million and be sentenced to one year in jail.
With files from The Canadian Press