Lightning strikes turn up the heat on fire season

Kamloops region has seen 85 human-caused fires and 74 caused by lightning so far this year

Lightning strikes in the past two weeks have raised the number of forest fires to more historical numbers.

“We usually see 50 per cent human-caused and 50 per cent lightning-caused. So far this year we have had 85 person-caused fires and 74 as a result of lightning,” said Kevin Skrepnek, a fire information officer for the Kamloops region with the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch. “The lion’s share of the lightning-caused fires were caused in the past week or so and the activity was right across the region.”

Even with the rainy weather in June, fire information officers were alarmed at the amount of human-caused forest fires. Up until the storms, human-caused fires far outnumbered natural-caused blazes — only three out of 85 fires being naturally caused.

“Even though we have had a few weeks of rain and cool weather, it doesn’t take long for it to dry out,” said Skrepnek. “What is concerning to us is those fires have burned more than 600 hectares of land. To put it into perspective, all of the 2011 fire season we saw a little over 600 hectares burned. So just in the last three months we have seen almost as much fire as we experienced in all of last year. That is pretty high for this time of year.”

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch watches closely as storms roll through the region with a real-time lightning detection system that catches around 90 per cent of the strikes. Skrepnek said they watch for positive strikes that typically take place farther away from the centre of the storm.

“Typically those will be a dry lightning strike because it is farther out from where the rain will be. It has an 80 per cent chance of carrying enough current to start a fire, where a negative strike, which usually takes place closer to the centre of the system, usually has a 20 per cent chance of starting a fire,” said Skrepnek.

One human-caused fire destroyed a residence just south of Penticton last month and quickly jumped up the hillside towards the forest. B.C. Wildfire was alerted by the public through their tip line and fought the blaze with air tankers, helicopters and a foot crew. A small grass fire that consumed just 0.3 hectares off White Lake Road on Monday had six firefighters, a response officer and helicopter that did bucketing over a three-hour period to douse that blaze.

“The area this occurred in has a pretty low fire danger rating if you look at the raw statistics. It goes to show that it is still very dry out there and it doesn’t take long to dry out,” said Skrepnek. “We want to make sure people are still vigilant out there … we are encouraging people not to get complacent with fire.”

Skrepnek also emphasized the valuable resource the public is when it comes to reporting forest fire activity. To report a fire call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 from a cellphone.