Jul 10, 2017

'It could get much, much worse': How the B.C. wildfire situation got to where it is

British Columbia
Canada
by
Maryse Zeidler
,
CBC News
Tinder dry weather, wind and dry lightning have caused fires to spread aggressively in the province. Photo: B.C. Wildfire Service
Tinder dry weather, wind and dry lightning have caused fires to spread aggressively in the province. Photo: B.C. Wildfire Service

A confluence of factors has created the "perfect storm" to ignite British Columbia's vicious wildfire season, experts say — a situation likely to come about more often as annual weather patterns change. 

Aggressive wildfires have burned more than 236 square kilometres of B.C. so far this year. Of the more than 550 fires the province has seen since April, nearly half were ignited in the last two weeks. 

"It could be a long, hot, smoky summer in British Columbia," said Mike Flannigan, a wildland fire professor at the University of Alberta.  

Flannigan says three key factors are needed for fires to spark: 

Hot, dry, windy weather.

Fuel, usually in the form of tinder-dry vegetation.

Ignition, most often either dry lightning or from human activity like discarded cigarettes. 

The wet winter and spring in B.C. didn't hamper the province's fire season this year — in fact, experts say it may have contributed to it.

Fire ecologist Robert Gray says moisture in March in April combined with warmer temperatures to create more vegetation.

In the B.C. Interior, that means mostly shrubs and long grasses that quickly dry into kindling. And then there are all the dead pine trees ravaged by years of pine beetle infestation. 

"Now we have the kind of fuel that makes fires grow very, very fast and very, very big," Gray said. 

Warmer temperatures in the past two weeks alone were enough to dry the grassland out. 

And then came the dry lightning and winds. 

"It's kind of a perfect storm," he said. "So really kind of a bad situation."