Wildfire activity in the Southeast FIre Centre is below average, so far. (BC Wildfire Service/Facebook)

Wildfire activity in the Southeast FIre Centre is below average, so far. (BC Wildfire Service/Facebook)

Wildfire activity below average in the Kootenays as season moves into summer

Area around Cranbrook being monitored by BC Wildfire Service, as April precipitation was below normal

Last week, the BC Wildfire Service issued a seasonal outlook for April, singling out Cranbrook as an area of it was watching due to the lack of precipitation over the month.

And then it promptly rained a bunch over the weekend.

Regardless, as the seasons transition into spring and summer, the B.C. Interior landscape will become drier and the temperatures will become warmer, which heighten the risks of wildfires.

While no one can prognosticate how severe a wildfire season will be over the summer months, there are indicators that BC Wildfire Service staff are watching, such as soil moisture and fuel dryness.

So based on trends over the last number of years, what does recent history show?

Based on data provided by the Southeast Fire Centre, there have been seven fire starts in the Cranbrook fire zone as of May 5 this year, slightly above the five-year average of four.

All were human-caused.

In comparison, the Southeast Fire Centre has had 11 fire starts, which is below average, as the five-year trend would put that number at approximately 22 fire starts.

Between April 2021 to March 2022, there were 367 wildfires in the Southeast Fire Centre, the second most in the province behind the Kamloops Fire Centre. However, the Southeast Fire Centre only had 77,615 hectares burned, with three other fire centres ahead including Kamloops Fire Centre, which had a whopping 497,497 hectares torched by wildfire.

Locally in the Cranbrook fire zone, the Bill Nye Mountain wildfire was the largest fire event last season that burned 2,990 hectares and touched off a number of evacuation orders and alerts in the Wasa and Lazy Lake area.

The West Kootenay had a few significant wildfire events last year, notably the Octopus Creek and Michaud Creek, which burned 22,049 hectares and 14,032 hectares, respectively.

While mindful of the rainfall over the weekend, weather conditions in the Cranbrook fire zone are not significantly higher than average for this time of year, according to the Southeast Fire Centre.

It’s difficult to predict what the fire season in the Cranbrook fire zone will look like in the summer, however, long range weather models are suggesting a cooling La Nina spring pattern for early May and a transition to slightly warmer and drier than average conditions for the core fire months.

That being said, confidence in those long-range models can be low, while fire conditions are highly dependent on local weather patterns, precipitation, thunderstorms, length of dry periods, and wind events.

The Cranbrook fire zone, which encompasses Cranbrook, Kimberley, the South Country and Elk Valley regions, is typically staffed with two unit crews consisting of 2o fire personnel per unit, along with five initial attack crews, which are each staffed by three fire personnel.

As the season transitions into the warmer summer months, the Southeast Fire Centre is also encouraging residents to do their part to protect their properties, mitigate fire risk and prepare for the season by following FireSmart principles. Those include creating a 1.5 metre non-combustible buffer zone around a home, keeping gutters clean of leaves, using fire resistant building materials, and being mindful of landscaping and vegetation in a yard.

More information on FireSmart initiatives can be found online at www.firesmartbc.ca

To report a wildfire or open burning violations, call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on a cell phone.