British Columbia has already recorded twice as many wildfires as it did by this time last year, surpassing its annual budget with the hottest and driest months yet to come.
Provincial fire officials have spent $64.3-million responding to 622 fires since April 1, compared with 321 in the same period last year at a cost of about $30-million.
"It has been a fairly active early fire season," Navi Saini, a provincial fire information officer, said. "The fire activity we've been seeing and the fires of note, we usually see that in July-August, not May-June."
Over the past 10 years, an average of 454 fires have burned from April 1, when the fire season starts, to the end of June.
While the 2014 fire season started off slower than this year's, Ms. Saini said the season escalated quickly in July with aggressive and large-scale fires burning a total of 369,169 hectares and costing $298-million. The year before, the government spent $122-million fighting fires that burned 18,298 hectares.
The province sets its firefighting budget at $63-million each year.
Over the weekend, 62 new fires started burning, the province's wildfire management branch said, including three of note: Petitot River, northeast of Fort Nelson, which prompted an evacuation alert for 15 people at an oil and gas camp; Westbridge, north of Rock Creek, which has three properties on evacuation notice; and Mount Bigfoot, southeast of Fort Nelson, which threatens a structure.
The first major fire of the season at Little Bobtail Lake, which grew to more than 25,000 hectares and resulted in evacations that affected roughly 80 people southwest of Prince George, is still burning. Other major wildfires include the Cisco Road fire near Lytton and the Elaho Valley fire northwest of Whistler. Those major fires account for the majority of the spending to date, said the wildfire branch.
The Ministry of Finance says the wildfire budget is kept intentionally low to avoid trapping unspent dollars during mild fire seasons that could be used elsewhere. The wildfire branch has the authority to spend more than its budget when it needs to.
B.C. just experienced the warmest winter and spring since 1948 when temperature records began, according to Environment Canada's senior climatologist, Dave Phillips. With an unusually dry June coming to a close and forecasts for July and August that are hotter and drier than normal, Mr. Phillips predicts no relief in sight.
"I think forest firefighters are very nervous because [a fire] is really just a spark away from happening," he said.
How much of the province burns this summer will largely depend on the how much rain falls – and Mr. Phillips said moisture is scarce. "Where's that rain going to come from?" he said. "We look at the weather map, we don't see it."