August fire conditions in July, five times as many fire starts as average

Fire season a month ahead

UPDATE: 3:50 p.m.

More than five times the number of wildfires have started this season compared to the province's 10-year average for this time of year, as more than 203,000 hectares of the province have burned so far.

During a virtual press conference Thursday, Kurtis Isfeld of the BC Wildfire Service says the weather conditions across B.C. in the past couple weeks have been more typical of conditions seen in August.

"Essentially, our fire season has been pushed forward approximately a month," Isfeld said.

While there are 309 active fires across the province, and more than 2,800 properties evacuated, the province has not declared a state of emergency, as has been done in other devastating fire seasons in 2017 and 2018.

"A state of emergency has not been necessary to provide assistance to people, to access funding, or to coordinate or obtain additional resources, including federal assets, to support both the response efforts or people who are affected or impacted by the event," said Brendan Ralfs, with Emergency Management BC.

"The province is currently deploying all necessary resources to respond to wildfires across B.C."

But Rob Schwietzer, director of fire centre operations with the BC Wildfire Service, said during the very same press conference that they are actively seeking more resources to help fight fires in B.C. There are currently about 2,500 personnel involved in the province's fire fight, along with 118 personnel from Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Parks Canada.

"We have a whole group of people in our organization who are reaching out to our international partners and across Canada because we will take the trained resources, as many as they're willing to send us, we'll take them now because we know this is going to be a long season," said Schwietzer.

"We are currently putting in a request for those ground troops [from the Armed Forces] ... the federal government has been more than supportive with all of our asks to date, which has been mostly aircraft."

Schwietzer said the BC Wildfire Service is also working with Indigenous communities, the forestry industry and cattle ranchers who may have specific knowledge of the lay of the land, along with bringing back retired wildfire personnel to act in support roles.

"We're not turning away anybody who's coming to us that has that background," Schwietzer said. "We're not, at this time, hiring people off the street or emergency firefighters, we're not at that stage yet."

BC Wildfire Service crews have been working to hit new fire starts hard with air resources, to get them under control early, but they're seeing fires grow extremely rapidly this season.

"The challenge that we're seeing this year, and that we haven't seen even in 2017, is the extraordinary drought that we're seeing pretty much across pretty much the south half of the province," Schwietzer said.

"When we see that dry lightning, we could have had ten times the resources and we're not going to catch all the fires when they're small ... they grow so quickly."

And with nothing but dry, hot conditions in the forecast for the south of the province, Schwietzer says the "weather is just not helping us at all."

Another wildfire update is scheduled for next Tuesday.

ORIGINAL: 2:15 p.m.

The provincial government is hosting an update on the wildfire situation across the province Thursday afternoon.

Officials from the BC Wildfire Service, Emergency Management BC, RCMP and public health will speak at 2:30 p.m. about B.C.'s wildfire situation.

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