By: The Globe and Mail
British Columbia’s Forests Minister says the province can’t send personnel to neighbouring Alberta before dealing with its own fires spurred by unseasonably dry weather.
“Alberta understands that,” Steve Thomson said Wednesday.
He said officials have discussed the province’s needs with their counterparts dealing with a disastrous fire in Fort McMurray.
“We are in the process of bringing more human resources on stream as we do our training and our boot camps,” Mr. Thomson said.
“Depending on how the situation develops, as soon as those resources are required we’ll make them available.”
BC Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said the Siphon Creek fire burning in the Peace region is likely to cross the border into Alberta, and if it does, B.C. crews will continue to fight it so Alberta can concentrate resources in Fort McMurray.
“In B.C., we know all too well how devastating wildfires can be, so certainly our thoughts are with everyone affected right now,” Mr. Skrepnek said.
The province has also offered Alberta the use of air tankers and equipment, including pumps and fire hoses, he said.
Mr. Skrepnek said there are currently 85 fires burning in British Columbia, and 57 of them are in the Prince George fire region.
Seven fires are causing concern in the Peace region, where five evacuation alerts have been issued.
Ian Lightbody of Emergency Management BC said 325 residences are covered by the alert and residents have been warned that they may need to leave at a moment’s notice.
Mr. Skrepnek said cooler temperatures forecast for the coming days are unlikely to bring much rain and stronger winds will likely fan the flames.
He said dry conditions and heat across much of British Columbia resembles the situation in Alberta communities such as Fort McMurray, where about 80,000 residents have been ordered to leave their homes after a firestorm descended on the oil sands city.
There have been 203 fires across the province since April 1, and the blazes have scorched more than 230 square kilometres.
“Those numbers are unusually high for this time of year,” Mr. Skrepnek said, noting that a year ago there had been 93 fires and seven square kilometres had burned.
All but four of the British Columbia fires so far this season have been caused by people, which Mr. Skrepnek said is typical for this time of year, because there are few lightning strikes.
“What’s exacerbating the situation here, particularly up in the Peace region, is that we’re in a bit of a period now where the snow has melted. So there’s lots of dead grass, dead fuel on the ground.
“With it having been so dry that grass hasn’t greened up yet, it’s still dead, quite flammable, quite volatile.”
There are few fire restrictions currently in place in British Columbia, with the only exception being a ban on open fires in the Prince George and Cariboo regions.
Mr. Skrepnek said Environment Canada expects this summer to be warmer than normal.
He said a big indicator for the coming fire season will be the amount of rain that falls from mid-May until the end of June.
Mr. Skrepnek said spring rains have a huge effect on fires, which can turn even a hot summer into a manageable firefighting season.