B.C. desperate for June rain amid early wildfire season

With temperatures unseasonably high and conditions dry across much of B.C., wildfire crews are hoping June will bring what they need.

According to Cliff Chapman, director of wildfire operations, BC Wildfire Service, the province’s fire season through July, August, and September is dependent on June rain.

“That remains the same. We are now in position though with our drying across the province and our fuels being so receptive to ignition and fire spread that the June rains are the biggest variable for us as we head into the core fire season. But, obviously, as we sit here right now, we are in the core fire season in parts of the province as we’re actively suppressing upwards of 50,000 hectares of fire in the northeast alone,” he explained Tuesday.

Chapman admits it’s not easy to forecast what exactly the summer season will bring, noting, “forecasting beyond 14 days is an unreliable science.”

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“Environment Canada has produced, I guess what you would say are forecasting maps for what the summer will look like, but it’s just above average, below average, seasonal. So right now, they are forecasting that B.C., maybe, in some parts of the province, above seasonal for the summer, and we use that to factor into our short- and mid-term planning,” he said.

Both the BC Wildfire Service and the province stress June is critical. Rain is needed to help add moisture into tinder-dry areas, with much of the province lacking precipitation and dealing with a spike in temperatures recently.

Chapman says despite the possibility of rain to come, the service is remaining cautious.

“We could also see a month of June that has 200 millimetres of rain across the province and that will knock the hazard down in this province and we’ll have a slow start to the core fire season. I don’t want to anticipate that,” he said.

“As an organization, we are anticipating that we’ll see very little to no precipitation in the month of May, and then in the month of June, ideally it will come. But if it doesn’t come, we need to be prepared, and the province needs to be prepared for what this fire season could be, given the conditions we’re seeing in mid May.”

In the shorter-term, Chapman says temperatures are expected to get back to around seasonal after the May long weekend. However, that break in the weather also comes with its own concerns.

“Unfortunately, when a ridge breaks down, you also see high winds, the potential for thunderstorms, and it doesn’t always come with precipitation on the first day. So what that means for B.C. is that we have a high likelihood of seeing fire starts really across the province, depending on where that lightning tracks if it shows up on holiday Monday,” he said.

The BC Wildfire Service says 80 per cent of the fires this year have started in the Prince George Fire Centre, which is also experiencing higher-than-seasonal temperatures.

British Columbians are being urged to be vigilant and to report any wildfires they see.

-With files from Martin MacMahon

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