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B.C. wildfire season uncertain, fire officials 'on their toes'

A record-breaking dry March for many B.C. communities is causing concern for the 2021 wildfire season.

Even after the driest month on record in Kelowna, it’s too early to predict just how the 2021 wildfire season will turn out.

Fire officials say after two dramatic and record-breaking years in 2017 and 2018, followed by two calm years, it’s made them be on their toes, watching closely for what may happen this season.

“We’ve had two years of quiet activity and it’s like, ‘The bubble's got to break at some time,’” says BC Wildfire Service information officer Erika Berg. “I think everyone is on their toes like, ‘Is this going to be the year?’”

To date, more than 140 wildfires have ignited across British Columbia this year; of those, just under 80 per cent have been attributed to human activity.

Berg says it’s too early to determine what will happen this year and a crucial month is just around the corner.

“Whether we are going to have a busy season is dependent on those local weather patterns, lightning, and whether we’ll have ample June rains,” she says.

What happens in June allows the BC Wildfire Service to predict the outcome of the year. 

“It’s more of a short-term thing. We can’t really predict too far,” says Berg. “It’s season by season. Mother Nature can surprise us.”

Environment Canada meteorologist Lisa Erven says it can be quite challenging to forecast with accuracy temperature and precipitation trends.

“To predict what is in store for us in the latter half of spring and the summer months, we should really take a look at what’s happened in the past,” Erven tells Glacier Media.

Communities in the central and north coast of B.C. saw normal or above-normal precipitation conditions dating back to January.

“Places like Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Prince Rupert, all those communities saw wetter-than-normal conditions,” she says.

Erven notes what's concerning is how dry it's been in the southern part of the province.

“Drier-than-normal conditions for many communities in January. Kelowna saw its fifth driest January on record,” she explains.

In March, many communities saw their top five driest March on record.

“Victoria had its third, Penticton with its fourth, Cranbrook with its fifth and Kelowna taking home the top spot with the driest March on record.”

She says a current weather system moving through won’t deliver too much precipitation to these areas but some regions in B.C. are set up well for the upcoming season.

“Central, north coast, northwestern interior; however, we should keep our eyes on what is happening with the weather pattern across the south,” she says.  

BC Wildfire Service is reminding everyone to be fire safe and responsible.

“So that our crews, staff are not preoccupied responding to human cause fires,” says Berg.