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'Little to no reprieve': Heat-accelerated B.C. wildfire season straining resources

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The extreme heat wave that baked British Columbia in late June has set the province on a course for an intense and potentially unrelenting wildfire season, according to the BC Wildfire Service.

Kurtis Isfeld, manager of wildfire operations for the BC Wildfire Service, told reporters during a news conference Thursday that the heat wave was part of an "unusual weather pattern" that has worsened fire conditions in the province.

"Essentially, our fire season has been pushed forward approximately a month," he said, adding that the upcoming weather forecast offers "little to no reprieve," particularly for the Southern Interior.

"This appears to be the type of season that's going to drag into the fall," Isfeld added.

The record-breaking hot weather was followed by more than 200,000 lightning strikes, but very little rain, Isfeld said.

B.C. has now seen nearly 1,100 wildfires since April 1, and those fires have burned approximately 203,000 hectares of land, according to Isfeld.

Those totals are significantly higher than the 10-year averages for this point in the year. On average, B.C. has only seen 209 wildfires by this time, with only 60,000 hectares burned.

Approximately 35 per cent of wildfires in the province so far this year have been attributed to human activity, Isfeld said.

"We maintain that human-caused wildfires are entirely preventable," he said. "They unnecessarily divert firefighting resources from our naturally occurring fires."

Forty-eight per cent of wildfires this year have been caused by lightning, while the causes of the remaining fires have yet to be determined.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 306 active wildfires in the province, according to the BC Wildfire Service's online dashboard

More than two dozen fires are currently considered "wildfires of note," meaning they are either highly visible or pose a potential threat to public safety, or both. 

Isfeld said the high volume of fires this season isn't the only challenge the BC Wildfire Service is facing.

Because neighbouring jurisdictions are also experiencing hot, dry conditions, there are fewer firefighters from the U.S. and elsewhere in Canada available to come to B.C.'s aid, Isfeld said.

The BC Wildfire Service currently has more than 2,500 personnel, including roughly 1,000 contract workers, battling blazes in the province, according to Isfeld.

He said the province has 118 out-of-province personnel assisting with the response, as well as assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Coast Guard.

"With the current resource challenges that we have, we are unable to commit to all new ignitions, which means our focus at this point is on allocating those resources to values of life and safety," Isfeld said.

Brendan Ralfs, director of response for Emergency Management BC, said there were approximately 30 evacuation orders in place across the province as of Thursday afternoon, as well as 51 evacuation alerts.

More than 2,800 properties had been ordered evacuated, while more than 10,000 were on evacuation alert, Ralfs said.

"This situation is dynamic," he said. "The numbers are changing rapidly, sometimes hourly."

He encouraged people to check Emergency Info BC for the latest information on evacuation orders and alerts. 

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