British Columbia’s 2018 wildfire season is now the second largest on record, ranking below only last year’s catastrophic summer.
Across the province, more than 945,000 hectares of land has burned since the beginning of the wildfire season on April 1, according to government statistics. In comparison, a total of 1.2-million hectares were destroyed last year.
On Sunday, 542 fires continued to burn throughout B.C., with 12 new starts on Saturday and nine on Friday. Of the 542, 58 were considered fires of note, meaning they are either highly visible or pose a potential threat to public safety
The largest wildfires are in the northwest region of the province. The lightning-caused Alkali Lake fire near Telegraph Creek has burned for a full month, merging with several smaller fires to cover 118,000 hectares in all.
The Shovel Lake fire north of Fraser Lake, meanwhile, measures more than 91,000 hectares. Firefighter crews used hand ignitions over the weekend to remove fuel and prevent the blaze from spreading further south.
Cooler temperatures and scattered showers across the province have offered some reprieve.
“What we really need to see is a prolonged period of rain to help the situation but, definitely, these cooler temperatures have been a huge help,” said Kyla Fraser, a fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.
“Hopefully this rain that we’re seeing right now is the beginning of a longer trend as we move into the fall.”
An air quality advisory for Metro Vancouver, which was lifted on Friday, was re-issued on Sunday due to high concentrations of particulate matter from wildfire smoke both within and outside the region. An advisory for the eastern Fraser Valley, including Agassiz and Hope, remains in place.
People with underlying medical conditions are advised to adjust outdoor activities until the advisory is lifted. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said smoke can increase the risk of infections in infants and seniors, but that the risk of long-term health effects from wildfire smoke are generally low.
Metro Vancouver, the agency that regulates air quality in the region, issues advisories when airborne particulate matter exceeds thresholds at two or more measuring stations.
There are now more than 4,400 people responding to B.C.’s wildfires, including firefighters and contractors from across Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, Ms. Fraser said.
The province has spent $320.8-million on fire suppression efforts this summer to date; in comparison, last year’s cost totalled more than $586-million. The official budget for this year’s wildfire firefighter efforts is just shy of $64-million.
Premier John Horgan recently described the traditional means of budgeting for the wildfire season as “laughable,” but assured the public that whatever’s needed will be made available from contingency funds.
“It’s not something that’s just developed in the past 13 months; it’s been going on for 30 years,” the Premier said of the budgeting while touring wildfire operations in Prince George earlier this month.
“Choose an arbitrary number, put it in the books and hope for the best. Clearly, we are going to overshoot the budget again."
“Whatever’s needed will be there, is my message to the communities and my message to the public.”