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Officials urge caution with fire as temps heat up

Environment Canada issues alert for Whistler
wildfire heat wave
A BC Wildfire Service firefighter cleans up after a fire in the Squamish Valley last spring.

It’s been a quiet fire season to date as the Sea to Sky saw plenty of rain in the first weeks of June, but hot temperatures in the forecast are drying the coastal forests and prompting an alert from Environment Canada.

Day time max temperatures on June 21 and 22 were five to 10 degrees above the seasonal average, according to Environment Canada, and after a slightly cooler period mid-week are expected to bring more hot, dry weather to the coast this weekend.

Mid-week forecasts predicted temperatures to reach 34 degrees on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

The BC Wildfire Service’s Coastal Fire Centre, meanwhile, will institute a ban on category two and three fires beginning at noon on Wednesday (with the exception of Haida Gwaii).

“We’re talking about industrial burning and large piles of outdoor burning, so basically the only type of burning that will be allowed moving forward is going to be campfires,” said Julia Caranci, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre.

“It sometimes does become necessary later on in the summer to enact a campfire ban, but at this time we are still allowing campfires.”

The ban is to reduce the risk of wildfires in the Coastal Fire Centre region, Caranci said, pointing to the higher-than-average temperatures in the forecast.

“I know that people may feel a bit complacent because we did have some rain earlier in the month, but things have turned around quite quickly, quite rapidly, and now we are locked into sunny, dry and sometimes windy conditions,” she said.

“We are seeing a lot of drying in many parts of the Coastal Fire Centre, and in some areas like southern Vancouver Island, like the Lower Mainland, some parts of Pemberton and some parts of the Fraser, we’re now seeing a moderate fire danger risk.”

Whistler’s fire danger rating was listed as moderate for June 22 and forecast to hit high by June 23.

The turnaround in the forecast (and correlated drying in coastal forests) “has happened very quickly, so we do have concerns,” Caranci said.

“We are concerned about the risk of wildfire more than ever right now, and so while we are allowing campfires, we definitely want to hit home with people that if you’re going to be having a campfire, you have to do it responsibly.”

That means having a fire guard around your fire, never leaving your fire unattended, having hand tools on hand to manage it and at least eight litres of water to put it out.

Before leaving the area, ensure the coals are cool to the touch.

“So while we’re not looking at a campfire ban right now, we’re definitely asking for people’s cooperation in being extremely careful and extremely responsible while they’re enjoying our beautiful forests,” Caranci said.

While the BC Wildfire Service was predicting a “normal” fire season in late April, the sudden spike in temperatures is putting officials on alert.

“We are anticipating and expecting things to heat up here in the next little while,” Caranci said.

“So we’re definitely on guard, for sure.”

BC Wildfire’s predictive service specialists are anticipating the higher-than-average temperatures to stick around through the end of June and into early July, Caranci added.

“The highest area of risk is still being identified as the Kamloops Fire Centre area … but we definitely are seeing those drying trends happening in the Coastal Fire Centre region,” she said.

The public is asked to report all wildfires immediately by calling 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 from any cellphone (inside Whistler’s boundaries, dial 911).

“When it comes right down to it, virtually all human-caused fires are preventable,” Caranci said.

 “So we really appreciate the public’s diligence and their support.”

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