The story so far: Large chunks of British Columbia are ready to go up in smoke with 50 new wildfires expected to break out daily as long as hot, dry weather persists.
Nearly 400 fires are actively devouring tinder-dry forests across the province, with four of the most serious wildfires scorching more than 550 square kilometres in B.C.'s Cariboo Region.
Two groups of fires - the Meldrum Creek complex and the Alexis Creek complex - now cover more than 350 square kilometres just south of Williams Lake. Another group of fires called the Pelican Lake cluster have eaten up 150 square kilometres of land southwest of Prince George. The Dog Creek fire south of Williams Lake has burned 65 square kilometres.
"Last week, we had really hot and dry conditions and that's one of the reasons these fires started so easily and spread so quickly," said fire information officer Gwen Eamer.
July has been unusually dry across B.C., according to Environment Canada meteorologist Greg Pearce. Williams Lake saw a mere 18 millimetres of rainfall last month. In Vancouver, July, 2010, is the second driest on record, seeing less than a 1 mm of rain.
Combined, the fires in the Cariboo have prompted the evacuation of 135 households, and put another 238 homes on evacuation alert.
Currently, 3,100 people are battling fires across the province, including fire crews from Alberta and Ontario that arrived last week. The firefight turned deadly for two pilots working on a blaze in Lytton, B.C., on July 31. Tim Whiting and Brian Tilley were killed when the air tanker they were flying crashed into a mountain range.
A majority of the fires have been caused by lightning, but 42 per cent were sparked by human activity.
Tough road ahead: Relief hinges on the weather.
"This is still an uphill battle," Ms. Eamer said.
The province would need to see heavy rains to reverse the high to extreme fire danger rating that covers nearly all of western B.C., she said.
A weather system moving into the province this weekend will bring cloud, cooler temperatures and a 70-per-cent chance of showers for the Cariboo, said Mr. Pearce.
"They'll have a good chance to get on top of things this weekend," he said.
The forest service is monitoring current fire zones and potential hot spots in the northwest and coastal regions, Ms. Eamer said.
The provincial government could also impose a voluntary backcountry ban or place restrictions on industry in an effort to prevent further fires if conditions worsen.
Fire budget up in smoke: The forest fires have burned through the $52-million provincial firefighting budget for this year. B.C. has spent $56.5-million since April 1.
The bill still pales in comparison to last year's costs, originally budgeted at $62-million. The province spent a record $382-million by the end of the fire season. By this time last year, B.C. had already spent $121-million.
It's "extraordinarily difficult" to predict the final tally, said Ministry of Forests and Range spokesman Robert Pauliszyn. However, the ministry has the statutory power to spend whatever it needs to fight wildfires.
Tale of two seasons: Fewer fires have destroyed more land in 2010 than in 2009.
- 2,285 fires
- 78,550 hectares burned
- The Cariboo and Kamloops regions were hot spots
- 1,238 fires
- 84,400 hectares burned
- The Kamloops area saw early fire action, but the hot spot shifted to Cariboo by the end of July.
At the front lines: Forget the beach, Jenny Fremlin gets her summer heat putting out the forest fires that threaten to grow into voracious blazes like those currently razing land in the Cariboo.
Ms. Fremlin, who just graduated from university, is the leader of a three-person crew based in Merritt, tasked with rapid response to small fires that break out around the town located in south central B.C.
Since last Thursday, the crew has been battling up to two fires a day.
"Part of the excitement of the job is not really knowing where you are going to be for the day," Ms. Fremlin said just moments after her crew defeated a 60-square-metre, lightning-sparked fire on Wednesday.
Suspense is only a small part of the job, however, mixed with unpredictable hours and hard labour.
At the height of the fire season, Ms. Fremlin is nearly always on call, which keeps her far from her friends and family in Kamloops.
"At this time of year, when the hazards are high … we'll be keeping close to the base," she said.
When she gets the call, Ms. Fremlin suits up for the firefight. The crew is dropped near the fire zone by truck or helicopter, and has to hike toward the flames. Then they dig trenches to create a fuel-free zone around the fire. A portable hose and pump kit - filled by helicopters or hooked into a stream or water tank - allows the team to douse the flames.
The team will work more than 12 hours a day if lives or property are at risk, but must take eight hours off between shifts due to safety regulations, Ms. Fremlin said.
"At the end of the day, it's easy to get a good sleep."