Forest fire season starts early in north, Cariboo

49 new fires detected on Monday alone, but Forests Minister Steve Thomson says it's too early to tell how wildfire season will go

The B.C. government has added $10 million to its program of prescribed burning and fuel management to protect communities.

A rash of grass and forest fires in the Peace region has the B.C. wildfire season off to an early start this week, after small fires were brought under control near Burns Lake and in the Cariboo in the past week.

The B.C. Wildfire Service recorded 49 fire starts across the province on Monday alone, with 37 of them in the Prince George fire centre. There were evacuation orders or alerts in four locations around Fort St. John, with the largest fire estimated at 3,000 hectares.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson said Tuesday the activity is several weeks earlier than last spring, prompted by high temperatures and winds in the Peace region that have since abated.

“This is an early start,” Thomson said. “It doesn’t necessarily indicate what the long-term outlook for the fire season will be.”

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said the main forest fire season isn’t until July and August, and snowpacks and long-range forecasts for rainfall are not reliable indicators of severity.

“It’s not uncommon to have an early spring grass fire season in B.C., but certainly not the level of activity that we’re seeing in the Peace region and elsewhere,” Skrepnek said.

The province added $10 million to this year’s budget for wildfire protection and fuel management projects.

So far this spring there have been prescribed burns near Pemberton, Lytton, Savona near Kamloops and the Chimney Lake region in the Cariboo.

Thomson said the province has 1,400 staff ready to work on wildfires this season, with another 1,600 contract staff available and aircraft and other equipment standing by.

The Martin Mars aircraft based at Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island are not part of the ministry’s firefighting plan for the year, as other aircraft have shown their quick response and efficiency, Thomson said.