WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — A municipal leader in British Columbia’s central Interior says he wouldn’t be surprised if wildfires that have chewed through more than 10,600 square kilometres of woodland aren’t fully out until 2018.
Chairman Al Richmond of the Cariboo Regional District said hot spots from many of the largest fires likely won’t be doused until the spring, mirroring a Fort McMurray wildfire that Alberta officials said was finally declared extinguished Aug. 2.
“It goes down deep into the roots sometimes and then pops up again in the summer,” he said. “That’s not unusual, so I think the forest service felt we will be out dealing with these fires until well into October. And we will probably be back with many hot spots again come spring.”
Huge swaths of land that are now just barren stretches of ash-covered ground and charred timber also worry the regional district as it prepares for rain in the fall.
“If we have some rains here, which we will be thankful to have to douse the fires, they could bring a mixed blessing and cause some land slippage too, so it’s not a pretty picture,” Richmond said.
This has been a record-breaking wildfire season for B.C., and Finance Minister Carole James said earlier this month the cost of the fires was tracking $389 million over the budget estimate in February. Updated firefighting costs will be included in September’s financial update.
Cabinet ministers from the federal and British Columbia governments have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday in Vancouver to discuss the response and efforts to rebuild areas damaged by the wildfires.
From the federal side, the meeting will include Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, while B.C.’s representatives will be Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. First Nations leaders and representatives from the Red Cross are also scheduled to attend the meeting.
On Friday, the province also extended a state of emergency for the third time through to the end of day on Sept. 15.
There were 160 wildfires burning in B.C. on Friday morning, with 16 evacuation orders affecting about 3,600 people, plus 39 evacuation alerts covering another 13,670 residents.
Among those fires was an 1,800-square kilometre blaze straddling the Cariboo and Thompson-Nicola regional districts.
The BC Wildfire Service said the blaze, sparked at the beginning of July near Ashcroft, was 50 per cent contained but recent scorching heat and gusty winds caused the fire to grow. All available resources, including structural protection crews, were sent to the area.
Effective at noon on Saturday, the province has decided to close all Crown land in the Rocky Mountain natural resource district to public access because of the fire risk. There are exceptions, including for people travelling to or from a residence that is not under an evacuation order.