Wet weather means slow start to B.C. wildfire season, but forecast suggests shift in July

Cold and wet weather has meant a very slow start to B.C.’s wildfire season. While that’s expected to continue throughout June, late summer could bring more dangerous conditions, according to the latest fire forecast.

B.C. Wildfire meteorologist Matt MacDonald told reporters Friday that both the number of fires and area burned so far this spring are well below recent averages, following a rainy May that recorded average temperatures two to three degrees below normal across the province.

That means conditions in most of the province aren’t conducive to wildfires, except for a few pockets in the southern Cariboo, the Thompson-Okanagan region and the Rocky Mountain Trench, where things have been drier than usual.

June is expected to be similarly dreary, but the forecast suggests things will take a turn in the second half of July, when the weather is expected to become warmer than normal.

“As we trend toward these warmer than normal temperatures, we could see fire activity grow through the latter half of the summer,” MacDonald said.

What’s more difficult to predict this far out is the possibility of extreme weather events like the heat dome of 2021.

MacDonald said that kind of unusual weather can usually only be forecast about two weeks ahead of time.

“Historically, these are the type of events we only see every 100 years, so very rare, very exceptional, but as our climate continues to change, we can definitely expect a higher frequency,” he said.

MacDonald explained that some studies suggest human-caused climate change could lead to extreme heat events once a decade instead of once a century.

“While the likelihood of that happening again this summer is very low, it’s not impossible,” he said.

“Right now, there’s nothing like that on the horizon, but we’ll obviously be keeping a close eye on that throughout the summer.”

The wildfire season of 2021 was the third-worst in B.C. records in terms of area burned. It also saw the village of Lytton virtually destroyed and two residents killed by a wildfire, the day after the community saw the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

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