Weather helps keep lid on start of fire season

Nine hectares destroyed in Penticton fire zone since the beginning of April

You may not know it by looking outside, but summer and the fire season are just around the corner.

Actually when it comes to precipitation in June, the wetter the better, according to the Wildfire Management Branch of the B.C. Forest Service.

“This is a crucial month for us. It’s sort of our monsoon season in this region,” said fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek of the Kamloops Fire Centre. “The amount of precipitation that we get in June, to a pretty significant degree, dictates how the rest of the fire season is going to go forward.

“One of the things we look at is the dryness of the soil and depth of the moisture. A real wet June with long, sustained rains can really moisten that soil up quite deep, which really helps us later in the summer when it does get dry.”

Since April 1 in the Penticton fire zone, there have been relatively fewer fires than usual, only eight including last weekend’s small fire in  Keremeos which burned about four to six hectares. In total, only nine hectares have been destroyed in this region.

While still under investigation, that fire — like the vast majority of others in the entire Kamloops district — appears to have been human caused.

The fire is believed to have started at approximately 4 p.m. Saturday in a field near the west end of the bypass, spreading north. Trees at the base of Puddinghead Mountain could be seen candling as flames moved through the sparsely treed hillside fed by moderately strong winds.

“It’s my understanding that it was human caused, there was no lightning in the area,” said Skrepnek. “If it was human caused, there is an open burning prohibition in effect right now, so if someone was doing a backyard burn or something like that it would have been in contravention.”

Along with forestry firefighters from Merritt and Penticton, a fixed-wing and rotary aircraft were used to fight the fire Saturday evening. Several members of the Kaleden department also helped out. Due to the wind, there were some concerns about the fire reaching the landfill site and coming in contact with nearby buildings, however, that did not happen. One home, however,  was voluntarily evacuated.

To date in the Kamloops region, there have been 67 fires, with all but one of which caused by people. Normally, it is a near equal split with fires started naturally, usually by lightning.

Although the number of fires is on a par with other years, what is alarming to fire officials is the 527 hectares that have been destroyed is nearly double the usual amount.

“We’re seeing a myriad of different reasons, poorly planned, open burning, bad campfires and we’ve even had a few unfortunately caused by discarded cigarettes,” said Skrepnek.

“We haven’t had an intense season in a few years and people have gotten a little bit careless as a result.”

While campfires are still permitted, Wednesday the Kamloops centre announced larger open-burning bans were being expanded across the entire region to the Salmon Arm and Clearwater fire zones.

In those areas, the prohibition will remain until Oct. 1, and until Oct. 15 in the other zones including Penticton, Merritt and Vernon.

Campfires must be a half-metre wide by a half-metre tall or smaller. An adequate water supply must also be maintained and under no circumstances should campfires be left unattended.

The ban does not apply to cooking stoves that use gas, propane or briquettes.