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Fire season already a concern across much of B.C.

Above average snowpack in Pemberton area is a positive sign


Pemberton is fast preparing for what could be another infernal fire season.

Donna MacPherson, a spokeswoman with the Ministry of Forests' Coastal Fire Centre, told Pique last week that weather patterns indicate the coastal region could be headed for a busy summer of fires due to forecasts of warmer-than-average temperatures and less-than-average precipitation.

The ministry is thus preparing communities and its own crews for a summer that could well rival last year's, the busiest season on record for fires in British Columbia. And Pemberton saw much of the action.

"Always we worry in Pemberton about lightning," MacPherson said. "It has the tendency to track through specific geographic areas. The Pemberton Valley is one of the areas that typically tracks on the coast. You certainly got it last year.

"When you have hot, dry summers, that's what it takes to make lightning. Lightning comes from the heat building up on the landscape, so you have more of a tendency to get lightning when it's hotter and drier."

Correspondence from the Coastal Fire Centre to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District indicate plans to prohibit backyard burning from May 15 to Oct. 15 in case of a fire risk. However, gas-fuelled portable campfire apparati may not be included as part of a campfire prohibition, as they were last summer.

As far as Pemberton itself, Fire Chief Russell Mack said the ministry has already commenced its work in town, clearing fuels from the forest floor.

He said last week that workers have gone into the forest behind the SLRD office on Aster Street and right out to the entrance to One Mile Lake.

"What they do, they go in and they open it up so you get rid of a lot of the brush that's accumulated so the fire doesn't go roaring through," he said. "And then you get into the upper reaches of the trees. They take branches off the bigger trees."

As far as the summer fire season, Mack isn't too worried about Pemberton itself. He hopes for the best but said it will depend on how the weather changes between now and June.

"If we have a wet spring like the way we've been going here, then we should be in good shape," he said. "Once you get into July and August you're kind of at the mercy of the weather, whether it's super dry and if we get lightning storms."

The B.C. Ministry of Environment has warned that B.C. is experiencing a below-average snowpack, which could create potential for low stream flows and water-supply shortages. Pemberton, however, seems to be bucking the trend.

Mack said Pemberton has had a "really good snowpack," more than it had last year, which could help keep slopes moist and take a while to melt this summer.

Reports from the Ministry of Environment seem to corroborate that. A snow pillow report for Tenquille Lake shows that snowpack this month is up to 1,400 millimetres, below the maximum but well above the average level of 1,000 millimetres. It's also far above the 2009 snowpack, which reached about 700 millimetres at its height.