With the mercury just beginning to rise and 20 human-caused wildfires already reported to date, the B.C forest service ordered a fire ban throughout the region this week.
Open fires were prohibited Wednesday in all six zones of Southeast Fire Centre area that stretches from the North Columbia/Golden region south to the Canada/U.S. border and west through the Kootenay Boundary.
Over the weekend, lightning sparked two small fires, one near Nelson and the other south of Christina Lake, said Jordan Turner, the centre’s fire information officer, adding that both were spot fires, accessible by road, and quickly extinguished by fire crews.
A problem more hazardous than lightning but typical during fire season, is the carelessness of people who drop lit cigarettes, leave campfires unattended or even before the fire ban, allow open burning to get out of hand, he noted.
“Most fires in the area are person-caused,” said Turner. “This is why the prohibition within our jurisdiction is put in place,” he explained. “All human-caused fires are preventable and we want to ensure public safety.”
So far, the Southeast Fire Centre reports 35 hectares of burned land, a number it hopes to contain by banning the burning of any waste or slash, stubble or grass fires, and the use of fireworks, sky lanterns or burning barrels of any size.
This year’s fire ban comes a week earlier than usual, however the dry West Kootenay winter and low snowpack isn’t a foreteller of how intense the upcoming fire season will be.
“It’s difficult to use a dry winter to indicate the severity of a fire season,” said Turner. “Fire activity is dependent on current weather patterns,” he continued. “As long as lightning is accompanied by a lot of rain, it (spot fire) takes care of itself.”
Around Greater Trail, the fire danger rating remains low, meaning fires may start easily and spread quickly but there will be minimal involvement of deeper fuel layers (forest cover) or larger fuels.
“Right now it’s still wet with the rain from June and we can’t really look forward more than a week or two,” Turner said. “It’s difficult to say if it’s going to be a busy fire season this early.”
The prohibition doesn’t include small campfires, but Turner recommends public vigilance and suggests people heading into provincial and private campgrounds should contact the campground operators to check on rules for individual sites.
“We want people to take proper steps when having camp fires,” he said. “Have water on hand to put out fires when they’re done and have necessary tools on hand to control the fires.”
Anyone caught open burning can be ticketed $345, or if convicted in court, may be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to one year in jail.
If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible could end up paying up to $10,000 and be ordered to cover all firefighting and associated costs.
The fire ban covers all B.C. Parks, Crown and private lands, but doesn’t cover municipalities that have fire prevention bylaws and are serviced by fire departments.
Trail and Fruitvale have a year round ban on open burning, but Rossland allows the practice with a special burning permit that passes the current smoke ventilation index.
To report a wildfire or unattended camp fires, call 1.800.663.5555 or (star)*5555 on a cellphone.