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Forecasters out with wildfire warning as long, hot summer predicted for Pacific Northwest

Last Updated May 3, 2019 at 7:32 pm PST


U.S. forecaster say the Pacific Northwest is already drier than normal, which could increase wildfire risk

Meteorologist Russ Lacate says a dry and warm spring, summer is in the forecast for much of B.C.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Could B.C. be in for yet another major, perhaps even record, wildfire season?

A prediction from U.S. forecasters suggests the Pacific Northwest is already drier than normal, which isn’t a good start.

The region is in a moderate drought right now, and that makes an especially-heavy wildfire season along the west coast more than likely, according to the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center.

It points to an elevated risk in Washington and Oregon, and Meteorologist Russ Lacate says conditions can be a concern here in B.C., as well.

“We’re holding firm with our projections for an unusually sunny and warm stretch through May and June, getting our summer weather off to a head start. And it stands to reason that this may lead to an enhanced risk of forest fires this summer, particularly throughout the Okanagan, the Coast range, and the Cascade mountains.”

The 2018 B.C. wildfire season set a new record for land burned at over 1.3 million hectares.

The province declared a state of emergency in August, and at one point received help from hundreds of crews from other parts of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.

Despite the devastating consequences to homes and communities, no lives were lost.

Meantime, Russ does admit it is a little early to make any bold predictions as to what the next few months will actually bring, but notes with consistent predictions for a dry and warm late spring and summer season forecast, “it stands to reason we could be in for a challenging wildfire season.”

NFIC forecasters expect their risk to remain high right through August.

It says the areas along the Canadian border in Washington, Idaho and part of Montana “can expect an average start to the season with a potential for above normal activity.”

Budget set aside for season ahead

The B.C. government announced earlier this year that it had increased its wildfire budget.

While it is too early to say whether the season ahead will be as disruptive as the last two have been, the province set aside $101 million for wildfire management in the annual budget — which is an increase to what was allocated in previous years.

The total, however, is less than what the province has spent fighting fires annually since 2012. While $101 million is allocated in the budget, the province has said that more funding will always be available for direct fire response through other measures.

The 2018 wildfire season cost the B.C. government nearly $470 million. The province spent $649 million the year before, which is more than six times the amount that had been set aside in the budget that year.

-With files from Kurtis Doering and Tim James