WILLIAMS LAKE (NEWS 1130) – This year is now the second worst on record in British Columbia when it comes to tallying up how much land has been scorched by wildfires.
According to the BC Wildfire Service, close to 492,000 hectares have been destroyed since April 1st.
However, Chief Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek says it’s still too early to suggest 2017 may break the 1958 record, when more than 855,000 hectares were lost.
“Second highest year was in 1961. There was 483,097 hectares burned,” says Skrepnek.
“We’re already in a historic season. I don’t want to speculate at this point –given that we do still have all of August ahead of us and there’s potential for activity out there, so I think best to look at that in the fall,” he adds. “August is typically one of our busiest months. This current situation could get worse before it gets better.”
861 fires have been recorded so far this season, including the 126 which are still active.
The latest cost of fighting this year’s fires has now topped $204 million dollars, so Skrepnek says that record hasn’t been broken yet.
“The 2009 season was in the neighbourhood of 382 million, 2014 was 297.”
It’s been three weeks since a province-wide state of emergency was declared and he explains there are more than 3,800 personnel working under the BC Wildfire Service.
“Over 700 personnel from out of province and nearly 400 contractors from the forest industry and currently 209 aircraft right now across the province supporting our crews on the ground.”
Around 6,700 people are covered by more than 20 evacuation orders.
Meanwhile, crews are defending tactics being used to fully contain BC’s largest wildfire, which continues to cause problems for firefighters.
The Elephant Hill blaze –burning near Ashcroft, Cache Creek and Clinton since July 7th– has already scorched 93,000 hectares.
“We have been using planned ignitions on this fire and fires across the province for weeks now and in almost all cases, they go as planned and a lot of planning does go into that,” says Skrepnek.
However, he admits one controlled burn earlier this week ended up sparking a new wildfire that’s forced more people out of their homes.
“This was an unfortunate turn of the weather,” he explains. “The team that’s out there right now on this fire is some of our most seasoned, experienced people. To be frank, this is an active fire that, if we hadn’t have taken action, likely would have gotten into this area regardless.”
He says the Elephant Hill, formerly known as the Ashcroft Reserve fire, remains only 30 per cent contained.
Investigators are still looking for those responsible for sparking it.