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Rain provided lull, but higher fire risk returning
Heavy rains last Wednesday greatly reduced the immediate risk of wildfires in this region, but it was just a short lull in a difficult fire season.
After a hot weekend, and with forecasts for more of the same, the fire risk is again rising.
Several major fires in the Kamloops Fire Centre area, including three in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS), are now completely under control.
As of Thursday, July 24, the fire danger rating in most of the region was classed as “low,” including the area around Osoyoos and Oliver.
By Sunday, however, it was up to “moderate” and risk was increasing again.
With hot dry weather returning and the possibility that fires are smouldering as a result of lightning strikes in last Wednesday’s storm, the fire risk is likely to continue increasing, said a spokesperson for the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch.
“We did take a significant amount of precipitation through the entire Kamloops Fire Centre area, however the drought conditions were really poor before the rain came,” said Mike McCulley, fire information officer at the Kamloops Fire Centre. “So while it’s providing us some short interim relief, we know that within a few days of the temperature that’s coming … we’re going to be back to high and in some cases extreme fire danger ratings.”
The forecast, McCulley said, is for a warming trend with a high-pressure ridge over the fire centre area, with temperatures rising back into the high 30s.
As a result, there are no plans to remove the current campfire prohibition, which has been in effect since mid-July.
“It’s not a decision that’s taken lightly,” said McCulley. “The ultimate goal of Wildfire Management Branch is to protect life and property in British Columbia and also keep our fire crews safe and to keep resource costs down.”
Humans have caused wildfires by almost a two-to-one ratio over fires caused by lightning, McCulley said. The usual ratio is about one-to-one between human and naturally caused fires.
This year there have been 112 human-caused fires as of Friday compared to 67 lighting-caused fires, meaning 63 per cent are human caused.
“We can’t afford to be dealing with human-caused fires and that’s one of the main reasons for the campfire prohibition staying in place,” he said. “It’s been a busy season for the Kamloops Fire Centre, we have large active fires still on the go, and our crews are working hard on those. We need them available to continue that effort.”
Although several major fires are now contained and evacuated residents have been allowed to return to their homes, firefighters are continuing to mop up and extinguish hot spots.
The Apex fire west of Penticton was estimated at 345 hectares, but is now contained with mop-up taking place.
The Jura fire near Princeton was 390 hectares and is now also 100 per cent contained.
The 101-hectare Boot Hill (Nickleplate) fire, the only one in the region caused by lightning, is now 100 per cent contained.
The Smith Creek fire near West Kelowna is mapped at 280 hectares and is 100 per cent contained.
Firefighters are continuing to work on this fire. Previous evacuation orders are rescinded.
McCulley warned that lightning strikes in Wednesday storm might lead to future problems through a phenomenon called “holdover lightning.”
The ground may be wet at the time lightning strikes so fire doesn’t flare up immediately, but rather smoulders below the surface.
When conditions again become hot and dry and winds pick up, these become wildfires.
“We don’t have eyeballs on every square inch of the fire centre at all times, so sometimes it takes a little while for the fires to get noticed and called in,” McCulley said. “In that regard, we’re looking for the public’s help and we’re asking people if they do see columns of smoke or open flame or what they think is a wildfire to please call those in.”
The numbers are 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on a cellphone.