The Okanagan has seen far fewer wildfires this year, but humans are to blame for a larger percentage of them.
While the South Okanagan has escaped a campfire ban so far, the forest fire danger rating throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre remains high, with a campfire ban in place for the Lillooet and Merritt areas.
And according to Kevin Skrepnek, a spokesman for the Kamloops Fire Centre, not having a campfire ban doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be vigilant.
“There have been some pretty depressing figures this year. As of today, we’ve had 180 fires total, and 116 of those have been human-caused,” said Skrepnek. Normally, human-caused fires account for about half the total.
According to Skrepnek, there were 16 abandoned campfires discovered, four of them in the area around Penticton.
“Most of the Okanagan is in a high fire danger rating and we are forecasting a pretty warm weekend,” said Skrepnek, adding that there is a potential, with the dry soils and fuel in the forests, that there could be an expansion of the fire ban.
However, the overall amount of fires is down drastically. Skrepnek said that based on a 10-year average, the count would usually be about 437 fires at this point.
“The hectares burned is even more striking. We are at 238, and the average for this day would be over 10,000,” he said. “Those figures are a little skewed by 2003 and 2009, but this is still our slowest year to date.”
With fewer fires at home, many of B.C.’s forest service firefighters have been deployed to help out in Alberta and Ontario.
“As of right now, there are 222 wildfire management personnel in Ontario, and 35 of those are from the Kamloops Fire Centre,” said Skrepnek.
However, they have only sent people so far, keeping equipment like air tankers — two of which are based in Penticton — at home.
To report a wildfire or unattended campfire call *5555 on your cell phone, or toll-free to 1-800-663-5555. For more information on open fire prohibitions, area restrictions or for updates on current wildfire activity, visit www.bcwildfire.ca.
Not having an overall fire ban is a policy change for the Kamloops Fire Centre, which would normally issue them region-wide. This year, they decided to be more flexible and do it on a zone-by-zone basis.
“In Merritt and Lillooet, the readings we were getting from our weather stations indicated it was really necessary that we put a ban in place, because of the dryness of the soil and the fuel available,” said Skrepnek. “But the Kamloops Fire Centre goes as far north as Clearwater, where they are having overnight freezing temperatures right now.”