Fire hazard puts communities on full alert 

This week the Government of B.C. took the unusual step of releasing an advisory warning of the potential of lightning and high winds spreading wildfires across parts of the province, as Whistler enters another week where the fire hazard is rated as extreme.

The warning, issued jointly by the Ministry of Forests and Range and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, asks British Columbians to comply with evacuation orders and alerts and to stay out of the backcountry.

At press time the Wildfire Management Branch listed two dozen major wildfires, most of them within the Northwest Fire Centre and Cariboo Fire Centre. Hundreds more small fires - under one hectare in size - are also burning, and there are 106 fires larger than 10 hectares. The largest fire, just south of the Yukon border, measures 31,000 hectares.

The Coastal Fire Centre, which includes Sea to Sky, lists four major fires - two on northern Vancouver Island, and two on the north coastal region around Bella Cool and Powell River.

Locally, the fire risk has been classified as "Extreme" since Aug. 12.

The Extreme rating is expected to hold through the weekend, although some rain and cooler temperatures forecast for Saturday could drop the rating to High. Several days of intense rain would be required to reduce the hazard rating to Moderate.

At Extreme, all campfires are banned, as well as the use of charcoal and briquette barbecues in Whistler parks and wood barbecues in backyards. As well, all construction activity involving machinery and power tools within 10 metres of the forest interface is banned, something that has delayed projects like the Valley Trail extension from Spring Creek to the northeast corner of Function Junction.

Weather-wise, it's been an interesting time for Sea to Sky. Last Saturday, Aug. 14, temperatures in Squamish reached a new record of 36.7 degrees Celsius, breaking the previous record for that day by a full five degrees.

The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released data last week suggesting that to date 2010 is the hottest year on record, with temperatures 1.22 degrees Farenheit over the average - the highest average global temperatures since records were kept in 1880. That's despite cold weather and snow falling on the southern U.S. through the month of January, and record snow in some areas like Washington D.C.

The NOAA said an El Nino system early in 2010 pushed temperatures higher, but also that climate change was likely a factor. Worldwide records were set for March, April, May and June.




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