Wildfire 2017: A look back at the worst fire season in BC's history

By Adam Donnelly
November 7, 2017 - 5:42pm

KAMLOOPS — 2017 was an unprecedented year for wildfires in British Columbia. At the height of the crisis, it’s estimated over 65 000 people were forced from their homes due to the danger some of those fires posed to communities throughout the province. Now that the summer heat has turned to snow and cold, the BC Wildfire Service is taking time to look back, while making preparations for 2018.

The Kamloops Fire Centre is quiet these days. Well-worn equipment sits stowed on shelves, after a frantic season of fighting fires.

“Certainly BC will remember 2017 as one of the worst fire seasons on record,” Provincial Fire Information Officer Ryan Turcot told CFJC Today. “Over 1.2 million hectares of land burned… just over $561,000,000, just in suppression costs alone… and just the amount of people displaced by this year's fire season, over 65,000 people were evacuated over the course of the summer.”

It all seemed to come at once, as a result record high temperatures in early July and a lack of precipitation; just two factors that made 2017 the worst fire year on record.

“It really was a cumulative effect of a mild winter, much of province with little snow. Not any deep moisture to keep trees green. Then you throw in one bad weekend of lightning strikes, and you’re off to the races,” Dr Phil Burton explained to CFJC Today.

Burton is a professor of ecosystem science and management at UNBC, and also works with Natural Resource Canada. He says fire seasons like the one we saw in 2017 could become the new norm as a result of the change we’re seeing in British Columbia’s climate.

“As scientists, we’ve always been cautious to say ‘No, climate change didn’t cause this fire, or this fire here’, but I think it’s time we can maybe step forward and say yes, this is completely consistent with the prediction we’ve been making associated with a warmer planet,” Burton said. “We can firmly place the warming planet for the sort of [fire] season we saw this year.”

There’s still a great deal of work to be done on the 2017 Wildfire Season, Turcot says BC Wildfire Service staff will spend much of the winter looking at how things went this summer, and how they can improve for 2018.

According to Turcot: “Given how unprecedented this fire season was, debriefs are going to be a huge part of making sure we do learn from this fire season”

Much like 2003’s independent report by Gary Filmon, Turcot says there will be an independent review of the 2017 Fire Season.

 

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