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EDITORIAL: Wildfire season has already caused significant damage

Fire statistics disturbing in light of past wildfire seasons
A BC Wildfire Service firefighter works on the McDougall Creek Fire in West Kelowna in 2023. (BCWS photo)

Although it is still early in the fire season, wildfires are burning in parts of British Columbia.

Figures from the BC Wildfire Service show wildfires have been reported in all parts of the province except the northwest. The majority are in the Prince George Fire Centre’s coverage area.

The fire activity at this time of year is disturbing, especially when watching past fire statistics.

In 2017, more than 1.2 million hectares were destroyed by fire. This was the worst fire season on record up to that time.

Then, in 2018, the record was broken when more than 1.35 million hectares were burned.

And in 2023, the province recorded 2,293 wildfire destroyed more than 2.84 million hectares of land throughout the province. The cost of these wildfires is close to $1.1 billion. Six firefighters died while working on fire suppression during 2023.

The amount of land burned during that fire season is more than double the amount burned during the second-worst year on record.

So far this year, more than 140,000 hectares have been destroyed by fire. This figure is far lower than 2023, 2018 or 2017. However, this is significantly greater than the amount of land burned during the entire fire season in 2022, and around 10 times the amount of land destroyed by wildfires in 2020.

The statistics do not tell the full story.

During the worst fire seasons in recent years, those living close to wildfires were put under evacuation alerts and evacuation orders.

Throughout the province and beyond, smoke from wildfires resulted in poor air quality, with the most noticeable effects among those with breathing difficulties.

The community of Lytton is still recovering after a wildfire in 2021 destroyed much of the village.

The province’s wildfire season runs from April 1 to March 31, with number of fires and amount of land burned normally increasing as the summer progresses.

This year, because of the level of wildfire activity this early in the fire season, there is cause for concern. Temperatures will get hotter in the coming months and, in much of British Columbia’s Southern Interior, the summer months are also dry. These factors increase the wildfire risk.

This is the time to make wildfire preparations, individually, as communities and as a province.

The 2024 wildfire season has started aggressively and it is possible this year will result in destruction similar to that seen in recent years.

— Black Press