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11th July 2023
Vancouver Island experiencing extreme drought, aggressive fire conditions

BC Wildfire Service made remarks during media call July 5

Jul. 5, 2023 5:00 p.m.NEWS

Vancouver Island is experiencing extreme drought and aggressive fire conditions, said the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) in a media call on Wednesday, July 5.

“The region is very receptive to ignition,” said BC Wildfire Service lead forecaster Matt McDonald during the call. “Our typical lush pacific rain coast forest is really dry right now. That’s what we’ve seen in recent fires in Cameron Bluff fire, or the fire near Nitinat lake. We’re experiencing aggressive fire behaviour that is really reflecting these deeper underlying drought conditions.”

McDonald presented to callers a visual representation of moisture content within the Vancouver Island region. According to BCWS data, the hot conditions on Vancouver Island mean the moisture that’s supposed to be deep within the ground, just isn’t there.

“If you’re going to dig down into the forest in that deeper bluff and look for the moisture there, you won’t find any,” said McDonald.

The origins of the drought can be traced back to last fall, which is typically a rain season.

“It’s been a very dry spring,” said McDonald. “We saw less precipitation amounts over the winter period than normal. It was abnormally warm last October. It was an abnormally warm and dry period where we typically replenish our fuels and look forward to the rainy season. It did not happen last year. It’s been a long and persistent drought and only worsening the last couple of weeks.”

Although rain is expected this weekend, McDonald says the precipitation expected won’t be enough to slow down ignition.

“We have no significant rainfall expected,” said McDonald. “We’re expecting instability across most of the province, including the spine of Vancouver Island. The Beaufort Range behind Parksville is one of the hot spots for lightning. There’s a good likelihood here as we get into Thursday and Friday, we’ll see lightning strike in the higher terrain of Vancouver Island, and not accompanied by rain, into very receptive fuel. The table is set for new starts in the coming days. The importance is really to respond to these fires as soon as we can before they grow to a size that becomes unmanageable.”

The province has already experienced one million lost hectares as a result of wildfires so far this season, including a wildfire near Port Alberni which cut off access to Highway 4 in early June.

In the past seven days, according to BCWS, 85 new starts were reported. Just over half of those fires (45, or 52 per cent) were from Canada Day long weekend. Of the 45, 11 remain out of control.