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

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Whiskey Creek gas station destroyed by fire after camper van explosion

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

New Vancouver Island University chancellor Judith Sayers was sworn in at a virtual ceremony June 17. (Submitted photo)
VIU’s new chancellor seeks innovation and equality in post-secondary education

Judith Sayers officially sworn in as Vancouver Island University chancellor

Craft Brewing and Malting program student Ellie Hadley plans to use her newfound skills and knowledge to set up a distillery in Port Alberni. (PHOTO COURTESY LEE SIMMONS)
Something’s brewing with North Island College’s newest program

Port Alberni grad Ellie Hadley hopes to turn new skills into thriving business

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read