Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, July 10, 2017

British Columbia's 2017 Wildfires

"I saw lightning come down, and there were no clouds."
"We went right in and knocked it [wildfire around Williams Lake, B.C.] back. Our objective is to preserve as many houses as possible, which we've done very well so far ... We haven't lost a structure yet."
"This  is going to be a long battle."
Randy Worsley, chief, Wildwood Fire Department, Williams Lake, British Columbia

"Friday was really the tipping point when we had a fairly significant weather system move through."
"It brought wind to most parts of the province. That was a key, critical challenge we had. But it also brought a significant amount of dry lightning particularly to central British Columbia, and that's certainly what touched off the vast majority of new fires we are getting."
"We're definitely getting human-caused fires as well, and that's particularly galling right now, given how intense it is."
"We would need an unseasonably significant rain event to happen across the entire province to put these [wildfires] in check, and that's not something that typically happens in July."
Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer, Province of British Columbia

"Especially after what happened in Fort McMurray [Alberta in spring of 2016], we were very, very scared here on Friday when the power went out."
"It was very hot in the house, you could smell smoke everywhere, and everyone around us was being evacuated."
"It just takes one hot ash and then our whole side [of the lake] is gone."
Deb Bertand, evacuated resident, Lac La Hache, B.C.
williams lake wildfire
Lightning sparked several wildfires near Williams Lake, B.C. (Tore_greco/Instagram)
Everything seemed a little out of the ordinary this year in British Columbia. The winter rainy season received more snow than usual, and the province experienced much colder temperatures than it usually does. Spring brought a lot of rain and with the melt of the mountain glaciers and the rain there was abundant encouragement for all things green to grow. And then a dry spell  hit, and it continued and the interior dried out, no usual rain events, warmer than usual temperatures and tinder-dry conditions began to prevail.

Conditions just perfect for lightning strikes to light up that tinder with instant fire. Fire spread by the heat and the wind. Friday all was normal, Saturday wildfires were surfacing everywhere, and Sunday more fires, and thousands of people were evacuated, seeking temporary shelter anywhere but where the fire was -- and in some instances the fire seemed to follow them; where there was no fire suddenly there was, a pattern repeated and repeated.

Yes, the province with its rich abundance of forests is no stranger to wildfires.

But this is rather unusual; climate change has given British Columbia longer summers, dryer summers and more opportunity for wildfires to occur. Outgoing Premier Christy Clark announced the availability of relief funding, and gave warning that the situation could continue accelerating and become even more aggravated: "We are in many ways just at the beginning of the worst part of the fire season. We watch the weather, we watch the wind and we pray for rain."

There are one thousand firefighters with the Wildfire Service, busy with crews from forestry companies fighting the wildfires, and a request is out for 300 additional firefighters from other provinces, who have already begun arriving. Wildfire Service's Mr. Skrepnek spoke of "incredibly aggressive fire behaviour" that leads a drive to focus on keeping critical highways open and saving property rather than focusing on bringing the fires under control.

Fire retardant is being dumped onto the fire sites from aircraft, meant to protect structures while bulldozer crews create fire barriers and controlled burns are being used in hopes of depriving the wildfires of their natural fuel provided by the moisture-famished environment.
July 7, 2017: A wildfire burns on a mountain near Ashcroft, B.C.

In areas like historical Cache Creek recalling the Gold Rush days of the province, it is not forests that burn, but sagebrush and low-growing plants and grassland more common to desert areas. The fire skims the ground and consumes everything combustible, then carries on looking for more fuel. People living around 100-Mile House have been evacuated, and more evacuations are being ordered as the wildfires rage on. Over 14,000 people have been forced to evacuate as 400 square kilometres of land has been blackened by more than 215 wildfires.

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