Gloomy weather dampens forest fire hazard 

Forests could still dry out with a week of sunshine, warm temperatures

Are you wishing the clouds would disappear? For the last two years it has not been rain clouds in summer skies that worried everyone but clouds of smoke.

This year, however, the wet spring weather that has continued into summer is a blessing in disguise for coastal forests and forests across B.C., dampening the potential for any forest fires early in the season.

"It’s been low for quite a while now. The weather throughout the whole fire centre has been cool and wet for quite a few weeks," said Sue Handel, the fire information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre.

The rainy, cool weather that has been dominating the forecast for the past month may not bring smiles to most people’s faces but those involved in forest management are grinning.

"With the fire danger being low throughout the entire fire centre we are in good shape," said Handel. "Last year, especially in the coastal fire centre, it was quite busy for us. On this date last year we were at 130 fires for the Coastal Fire Centre area, for the same date this year we’re at 35."

Last year’s hot, dry spring and summer shattered 50-year-old records and made B.C. forests dangerously dry. According to Environment Canada, precipitation levels were half the normal amount and the temperature was, on average, two degrees warmer than normal. This spelled out a disastrous fire season, similar to the one seen in 2003.

"I think we’d all gotten used to those busy seasons, 2003 and 2004 were both quite busy. But really they were busier than average and the norm is more like what we have now. It seems really quiet but it’s actually closer to normal," commented Handel.

Similar to 2004, B.C. saw less precipitation than average over the winter months this year, which was particularly noticeable in Whistler’s reduced snowpack.

"We were definitely keeping close track of the weather conditions," said Handel. "But we knew early on that the snowpack wasn’t necessarily going to have a big impact on the kind of fire season we were going to have. Our fire seasons depend more on rainfall then they do on snowpack. We were kind of holding out to see what kind of rainfall we got and sure enough in the early spring we had very heavy, very wet spring, lots of rainfall. So that kind of put us in a good position for a normal start to the season anyway."

When asked if this month’s rainy weather will prevent a bad fire season later in the summer, Handel answered: "I think if we got a week or two of hot dry weather things could dry out again still. So even though it’s cool and damp right now, it doesn’t mean that if the weather turns around we couldn’t see some fire activity again. All we can do is continue to look at the forecasts and go from there."

Whistler Fire Chief Bruce Hall said of the fire hazard, "It’s still at low. Unless we get a really hot spell of hot dry weather, it’s still maintaining itself at low.

"On the wildfire front, it’s kind of nice. On the enjoying summer front, it’s kind of the pits."

So when the sun does return, people will need to be as careful around our forests as possible. Statistics show that more fires are caused by people than by natural causes. In the Coastal Fire Centre region, on average, 60 per cent of fires are started by people.

Handel encourages people to take a look at the FireSmart program. The program is designed to educate people on how to reduce the risk of fires occurring on their property or in their community. You can find information on the FireSmart program at www.for.gov.bc.ca/protect.

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