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Fire bombers deployed early

British Columbia is deploying water bombers early this year to counter the quick start to the fire season in northern B.C., despite more-favourable conditions on the horizon.

There are currently six "fires of note" burning near Fort St. John, five of which began on Monday due to high temperatures and strong winds in the area.

The largest of these fires, and the largest in B.C., is northeast of Fort St. John, at an estimated 5,500 hectares in size.

Because of these early fires, the province is mobilizing their bomber crews weeks early to get an upper hand on the currently uncontained blazes.

“One-hundred-forty-three fires since April 1 is certainly above average for this time of year,” said Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer. “Given the activity we’ve had already, the decision was made by the province to bring our air tanker fleet online early.”

One heavy air tanker will be fire-ready by Wednesday afternoon, based out of Fort St. John, and a second tanker group will be ready Thursday, based out of Prince George.

A third group will be coming online in Williams Lake next week.

Skrepnek says under normal circumstances, the first tanker group would not be active until the last week of April, with subsequent groups coming online a week at a time. 

While the province will be keeping the famed Martin Mars bomber on the ground this year, they will be using a large, jet-powered air tanker, the Avro RJ85, for the first time this season.

Conditions in northern B.C. have calmed down a bit and have become more favourable for fighting fires. 

Temperatures are sitting at 11 C near Fort St. John, significantly less than Monday’s high of 28 C and rain is expected in the area near the end of the week.

While the BC Wildfire Service has yet to determine the cause of the fires in the area, they are assuming they were human-caused, as there were no reports of lightning in the area.

While there are no longer any evacuation orders in the province at this time, five of the 143 fires burning currently carry an evacuation alert for nearby residents.

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