Wildfire Risk Critical Across The Province
Jul 31, 2009
VANCOUVER - The wildfire risk across the province has reached a critical level due to continued hot and dry weather, and British Columbians are being asked to voluntarily restrict back country activities, said Premier Gordon Campbell.
"The wildfire risk is at the highest level in recent memory, with 85 per cent of the province facing a high or extreme fire hazard level," said Premier Campbell. "With high temperatures and lightning expected as we head into the B.C. Day long weekend, every British Columbian needs to take an active role in ensuring the safety of their community by being vigilant and cautious.
The current heat wave has left the entire province vulnerable to new fire starts, prompting the Province to take extraordinary precautions to prevent fires caused by people. All six fire centres are on high alert in anticipation of increased wildfire activity. Fire hazard levels are higher and cover more regions of the province than in 2003, when extreme conditions were mainly centred in the Southern Interior.
Since April 1, the Province has responded to 1,817 wildfires that have burned approximately 51,042 hectares of forests and grasslands. About half of those fires were human-caused. By comparison, at this point in the 2003 fire season, there were 959 fires and 31,000 hectares burned. On July 30 alone, 171 fires started, primarily from lightning.
There is currently a ban on campfires and open burning across B.C., with further restrictions possible if the high risk persists. Failure to comply with burning restrictions can result in a $345 fine. It is vital that the public respects campfire restrictions, as crews are working to contain a large number of naturally-occurring wildfires.
The Province is asking people to reconsider their recreational activities and avoid travelling in remote backcountry areas where access is difficult. This is especially important as it helps reduce the risk of accidental fire starts, and alleviates the risk to people should remote areas be affected by fire. Should conditions continue to worsen, formal backcountry travel restrictions will be considered. Ministry of Forests and Range staff are preparing to establish information stops at major backcountry access routes for the beginning of August.
As in 2003, staff there will hand out information pamphlets to users of the backcountry to warn them of the fire hazard and of precautions they can take to prevent fires, as well as inform them of the chance the area could be evacuated. Staff are also preparing information to backcountry lodge and activity operators to inform them of the voluntary restriction.
"The safety of people and communities across the province is paramount. Despite burning bans and warnings, crews are still responding to fires caused by people," said Premier Campbell. "If the fire hazard remains high we will look at further restrictions on activities in the back country, based on advice from fire protection experts."
Going forward, the Wildfire Management Branch will be providing weekly fire condition updates in Victoria.
The public reports nearly half of all wildfires in B.C. Please continue to report smoke and flames by calling toll-free 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on most cellular networks. For the latest information, visit http://bcwildfire.ca/.
BACKGROUNDER - FOREST FIRE PREVENTION
Burning and Campfire bans:
- There is currently a total ban on open fires and campfires in all areas of the province with the exception of the outer coast on Vancouver Island.
- Failure to comply with a ban can result in a $345 fine.
- For the latest up-to-date information on wildfires, fire bans and other restrictions, go to http://bcwildfire.ca/.
- The Province is asking people to voluntarily stay out of the backcountry.
Use extra caution:
- Carelessly discarded cigarettes are a major concern and can easily start fires.
- Exhaust systems from vehicles produce extreme heat, which can also ignite a wildfire. Drivers and riders are urged to be extra cautious when in tall grass or on sawdust piles.
- Fireworks can ignite fires at great distances from the point of launch; these fires may not be visible to those using the fireworks.
- Lawn & farm equipment should have properly working spark arresters to prevent sparks from exiting through the exhaust pipes.
Penalties for non-compliance and civil suits:
- If found to be responsible for starting a wildfire, the Province can issue out-of-court administrative penalties of $10,000 to $100,000.
- The Province can also recover costs by proceeding with civil lawsuits against persons responsible for starting a wildfire.
Reporting fires: Report fire sightings or the smell of smoke to 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on cellular networks.
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