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Backcountry ban issued in BC's Central Interior

Last Updated Aug 11, 2017 at 4:29 pm PDT

The Wentworth Creek wildfire ~80 km NW of Williams Lake (taken July 26). It is currently around 1,383 ha. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service via Twitter)

No public access to Crown land in the Cariboo fire region because of the ongoing extreme wildfire danger

Access ban could be in effect until September 5th

CLINTON (NEWS 1130) – The BC Wildfire Service has closed off backcountry areas in the Cariboo Fire Zone (from Clinton to Quesnel).

Excluding firefighters and specific residents, it means no public access to Crown land because of the ongoing extreme wildfire danger.

High winds are expected to increase fire activity over the next few days.

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek says Saturday will be a challenging day for fire crews, which is why the ban begins this afternoon.

“All Crown land within the Cariboo fire centre will be closed to public access due to the ongoing extreme fire danger we’re having there, and of course just the sheer number of fires that are burning throughout that region. These restrictions are not going to apply to commercial operators or commercial businesses,” he says.

“A person must not remain in or enter that restricted area without prior written authorization unless the person is entering the area in the course of travelling to their principle residence (or for) livestock management activities.”

The ban may last until September 5th.

Skrepnek says across BC, there are now 143 fires. Since April 1st, 966 fires have scorched 646-thousand hectares.

“More than double the size of greater Vancouver inclusive of the Fraser Valley, the North Shore mountains towards Aldergrove and Maple Ridge, as well –more than double.”

South of Clinton, the Elephant Hill fire, which has been burning since July 6th, is now 117,000 hectares in size and still just 30 per cent contained. It’s being described as extremely volatile, and the estimated size of the blaze is likely to grow when smoke allows for better mapping. 

In the Cariboo, an evacuation order has now been issued for areas east of Titetown

A change in the weather might not be enough to ease conditions in the Interior

It’s not too often we wish for an end to a hot, sunny stretch of weather but a cooler, wetter weekend should offer a welcome break from the smoky haze afflicting the South Coast and a bit of good news for crews battling wildfires in the province’s Interior.

While some moisture is a good thing, it might not be enough to turn the tide on an intense fire season.

Lori Daniels, an expert on forest ecology at UBC says it will take a lot of steady, drenching rain to bring down the fire danger because so much of BC is crispy dry and has been for weeks.

“This summer is very unique in that way. We are much drier than the 10-year average is.”

It’s not just fuel on the the forest floor that’s dry the ground is parched to deep underneath.

“The potential for the fire behaviour to be much more extreme is greater. It will also take a lot of rain to saturate not just the surface of the soil, but to get that water deep down into the soils and also to saturate the woody debris down on the ground.”

She says typically we’d just be hitting the driest conditions of the summer now in August, but we’ve been seeing these conditions for weeks now.

Daniels says while we can never directly link the conditions in the Interior to climate change alone, we are seeing all of the symptoms of climate change.

Here on the coast, if the dreary, smoky skies have you feeling down, you’re not alone.

Dawn Schooler with Jericho Counselling says it is very possible to suffer symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder with smoggy summer skies.

“Depressed mood, a tendency to be more inactive because it doesn’t feel good to move, not wanting to be social perhaps, and just generally a negative outlook might be things that people would notice.”

If that’s you, she says try to focus on things that make you feel better.

While the state of emergency continues, the province will decide this morning whether a widespread ban on accessing the backcountry in the interior is needed to help mitigate human-caused wildfires.

Thunderstorms in the forecast could bring more lightning that has already been causing new fires to ignite.