So far, the 2019 fire season in B.C. is proving to be far less active than last year.
As of June 25, there were 144 fewer fires this year compared to the same period last year.
Since April 1, there have been 385 fires in B.C., of which 27 are currently active. Three of those are in southeastern B.C. There are no active fires in the Revelstoke area.
|The fire danger this year compared to 2018. (BC Wildfire Service)|
By the end of June last year, there were more than 560 wildfires across the province. By the end of the fire season, more than 1.3 million ha had burned, which is roughly the same size as the Bahamas.
It was the worst fire season on record and the second year in a row the province had to declared a state of emergency.
Many factors are involved in predicting and monitoring fire danger, such as weather.
A useful tool is the Buildup Index (BUI), which is an estimation of the total amount of fuel available for burning.
For example, it takes into account fuel type, which is largely pine trees for the Revelstoke area, the moisture content of that fuel and the soil. The index is also an indicator of smouldering, i.e how difficult a fire would be to extinguish.
Although its scale starts at zero, it has no maximum value.
Joana Wand, provincial wildfire technician, wrote in an email to Black Press the index’s values of concern vary due to differing fuel types, weather and climatic conditions province-wide.
At the moment, the BUI index for the Revelstoke area is hovering around 40. According to Erika Berg, communications assistant at the Provincial Wildfire Coordination Centre, the number would roughly have to rise to 140 before a fire ban could be implemented.
Out of the 385 fires this year, roughly 25 per cent were caused by lightning, 40 per cent by people, and almost 35 per cent unknown. More than 92 per cent of the fires started this year are out.
For many of the fires this year, Berg said initial attack crews were able to extinguish them or ensure they did not spread.
“So we aren’t spread with those smokey skies we’re associating with B.C. summers.”
Since more rain is predicted for the Revelstoke region over the next week, Berg said the fire danger may not locally rise in the immediate future. Currently, the fire danger rating in Revelstoke is low, while in small pockets along the coast and interior, fire danger is extreme.
However, most of the province has either very low, low, or moderate fire danger.
Regardless, Berg said it can change fast.
“We do depend quite a bit on the June rains,” said Berg.
“But, we can only predict so much. Forecasts are not a done deal.”
Although B.C. has had less fires this season compared to last, most of the fires last year were due to intense lightning events in late July.
The largest fire last year, known as the Tweedsmuir Complex fire, which burned more than 300,000 ha, was started by four separate lightning strikes in August.
Fire conditions can quickly change and according to the calendar, summer has just started.
However, just a province over, this fire season has been vastly different.
Alberta has had what NASA describes as “an extreme fire season”. So far, more than 800,000 ha have burned, which is almost four times more than land burned during a five-year average. There have been 644 wildfires recorded in Alberta this year.
By May 31, 10,000 people had been evacuated, 16 homes burned and a CN railway bridge destroyed. The fire is still actively burning.
While the 2019 fire season has been quiet in B.C., it’s still early. The province has more than 1,100 firefighters ready if needed.