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BC on track for record-breaking wildfire season

Last Updated Aug 15, 2017 at 6:36 pm PST

Fire activity in the Bald Mountain area in August, 2017. (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service via Twitter)

There are 154 wildfires burning across the province

An estimated 845,000 hectares has been burned in BC since April 1st of this year

The province has surpassed $300 million in fire suppression costs this year

KAMLOOPS (NEWS 1130) – This could be the most expensive wildfire season BC has ever seen. That’s according to the BC Wildfire Service as crews continue to fight more than 150 fires across the province.

The 10 year average is somewhere around $182 million. While it’s still too early to know exactly how many of our tax dollars will be spent fighting the fires this year, we’re well on our way to doubling that number, having already surpassed $300 million.

“If we are continuing at the pace we’ve got now, that’s more than likely,” says Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek, who adds the last time we set a record was back in 2009 with $382 million.

Since April, more than 1,000 wildfires have burned an estimated 845,000 hectares, which is roughly one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island.

“Our estimate for hectares burned has actually jumped considerably since yesterday, and that is to do with some more accurate mapping of the growth that we had on Saturday and Sunday, as opposed to the growth over the last 24 hours,” explains Skrepnek.

The highest year on record for hectares burned was in 1958, when an estimated 855,000 hectares were burned province-wide.

Weather remains a concern for most of the southern area, with no rain in the forecast at this point.

“Certainly we’ve seen temperatures go down a little bit compared to where we were at over the last few weeks, but unfortunately the rain that we saw over the weekend looks like it was very much a temporary fixture.”

The large fire burning near Hanceville, which is just about 60 kilometers southwest of Williams Lake, is currently the largest wildfire in BC, covering an estimated 212,000 hectares in size.

“Certainly this was certainly one of the fires over the weekend that saw some real significant growth due to the weather that we were having.”

He adds the Elephant hill fire saw little growth and limited activity overt the last day or so, He says the risk of lighting-caused fires remains to be a concern, and is urging everyone to remain vigilant.
“Which makes it even more critical that we’re doing everything we can to avoid any preventable human-caused incidents.”

If you see any fires or anyone breaking any of the bans and prohibitions in place, you’re asked to call *55 55 from a cell phone, or 1-800-663-5555.

Thousands still forced from their homes

As thousands wonder whether they’ll soon get to return home, an evacuation alert issued for the City of Williams Lake has been rescinded.

“After consultation with the Cariboo Fire Centre, the City of Williams Lake Emergency Operations Centre has determined that the imminent risk of danger to life and properties within the City boundaries has diminished at this time,” reads a city release.

The alert had been issued on July 8th. Residents are being reminded that an alert or order may be reissued if conditions change.

According to Emergency Management BC, there are still more than 9,000 people still out of their homes.

Wildfire retardant 

As many return home, the BC Centre of Disease Control has issued a warning about fire retardants that have been sprayed and may be covering houses or properties.

The agency says people may encounter two types of major retardants –one that is off-white in colour and another that is red.

Though these retardants break down and become fertilizer so garden produce isn’t impacted, the CDC has come out with some tips and warning.

  • Avoid eye contact and wash hands when removing coloured fire retardant from structures.
  • Gel retardants provide short-term fire protection and are used with water to protect structures.
  • Gels are slippery and can irritate eyes. They should be washed off with a pressure washer.
  • Do not eat garden produce coated with the gel fire retardant but gels and their residue are harmless if they are no longer visible.