British Columbia’s current wildfire season has vaulted into second place in the province’s all-time record for area burned Thursday, surpassing 2017 not even halfway through July.
“I'm looking at this fire season and anticipating it will be the greatest on record for British Columbia,” said Lori Daniels, a wildfire expert and professor in University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry.
By Thursday morning, there were 345 active wildfires burning across the province, half of which are out of control. Over the three days, 109 fires have been caused by lightning and five fires have been caused by human activity.
An incident management team will arrive from Australia July 15, and will join another roughly 160 personnel from Mexico and the U.S. already in the province. On Thursday morning, Bowinn Ma, B.C.'s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, announced the B.C. government will be requesting federal resources to fight fires.
Daniels says the early start to the season was driven by a record spring heat wave and a confluence of drought conditions. Extreme drought conditions extended across the province on Thursday, so bad the B.C. government has scheduled a press briefing to warn British Columbians of the extreme conditions. The head of the BC River Forecast Centre said 2023 is already shaping up to have the lowest river levels ever recorded.
The hot and dry conditions have allowed large wildfires to rage into behemoths — the Donnie Creek wildfire, still burning out of control in B.C.’s northeast region, has grown into the province’s largest in the modern record, having burned an area larger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island.
B.C.’s biggest population centres have not been immune as wildfire crews in Metro Vancouver continue to battle a blaze on Mount Seymour.
“We've had multiple ignitions in and around cities and communities, including those both on the coast and the Interior,” said Daniels.
“Human dumbass fires just are not OK right now. There's enough starting by lightning that we can't afford to have those.”
This year’s wildfire season has already broken all-time records as the worst in Canadian history, with hotspot satellite data showing more than 10 million hectares have burned (think all of Massachusetts). In B.C., which has experienced a string of devastating seasons in recent years, Daniels says it’s clear 2023 is not an anomaly.
“We are on track with the long-term trends. This is our new reality,” she said. “We have crossed a threshold with remarkable fire seasons in 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2023. The pattern is — we're getting these blocking high-pressure systems that are enhanced by multiple signatures of global change.”
Daniels pointed to fires burning inside heat domes with high temperatures and no precipitation driving extreme drought for extended periods. Combine that with flurries of lightning ignitions and a bit of wind, and Daniels says fires are becoming impossible to control.
The only solution, added the fire expert, is to lower greenhouse gas emissions and find better ways to manage forests so there isn’t as much tinder-dry fuel on the ground.
“You know, we're exceeding our technological solutions,” she said. “This is our future.”