A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

Dry spring can create wildfire trouble for Western Canada: experts

Parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia reported either significant drought or record low rainfall between January and April

Wildfire conditions are cause for concern this year as parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia report either significant drought or record low rainfall between January and April, experts say.

However, the severity of the wildfire season will depend on what kind of weather the next few months bring, they say.

Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, said May is the busiest month for wildfires in Alberta, and June and July for the rest of Canada except for B.C. where it is August.

“It just doesn’t depend on June,” he said. “It depends on the weather during June, July and August.”

The recent trend, Flannigan said, has seen a decrease in the number of fires but an increase in the area burned caused by more lightning strikes.

Lightning-caused fires happen in remote areas, tend to be larger and occur in clusters that may overwhelm fire management authorities, he said.

It takes time to report and reach them, he said, and hot, dry and windy days exacerbate the fires.

“If you don’t get to the fire when it’s small — by small I mean smaller than a soccer pitch — you have a real problem,” Flannigan said.

“The longer it takes you to get to the fire, the more likely the fire is going to escape and get large.”

Flannigan said spring is coming earlier across Western Canada and that dries out the vegetation, making it easy for a fire to start and spread.

“It means that the higher intensity, the more challenging or difficult or impossible (it is) to extinguish if it gets bigger than that football field.”

Lori Daniels, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia, said the fire season in B.C. will depend on how much rain falls in June and July.

“So it’s really kind of the canary in the coal mine — the weather between now and the end of June.”

The record-breaking fire season of 2017 in B.C.saw fairly cool conditions in May and early June but warm and dry weather towards the end of the month, she said.

“The weather channel becomes my favourite channel to watch when trying to predict what’s going to happen with our fire seasons because I watch to see where is our high pressure, which gives us sunny, hot conditions,” she said.

“It means that there are no clouds forming, we’re not going to get rain, and if you get lightning and wind, those combined with those sunny, hot conditions, we’re in trouble in terms of fire season.”

Western forests also have plenty of flammable material in the combination of living and dead trees.

Flannigan said dead wood caused by mountain pine beetles, spruce budworm or other pests can lead to crown fires, where high-intensity fires in the tree tops cause “massive walls of flames” and are extremely difficult or almost impossible to extinguish.

For now, Flannigan and Daniels say they are in fire-watch mode.

Last year was quiet, while 2019 was busy in Canada. The two previous years were record breakers in B.C., Flannigan said.

“So, you know, it’s a roller-coaster,” he said.

“I can’t tell you what it’s going be. I can tell you what’s happened by far. We’re above average. But what’s the rest of the fire season going to look like? I don’t know.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

bc wildfires

Just Posted

Nanaimo is the first city in Canada to subscribe to the Chonolog environment photo-monitoring system, which allow residents to contribute photos of habitat restoration projects that are converted to time lapse sequences showing environmental changes. (Chris Bush/ News Bulletin)
Nanaimo residents invited to be citizen scientists by sharing habitat restoration photos

Nanaimo first city in Canada to sign up for Chronolog environment photo monitoring service

Regional District of Nanaimo is seeking input from the public for its transit redevelopment strategy. (News Bulletin file)
Public input sought as RDN works on transit redevelopment strategy

RDN wants to know where people want bus stops, shelters and pedestrian and cycling connections

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Nanaimo residents on edge of city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read