The province is extending the state of emergency as wildfires and drought continue to plague B.C.
Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma announced the extension during a wildfire update on Thursday (Aug. 31). She was joined by Forests Minister Bruce Ralston.
“The nature and unpredictability of the wildfires that we are experiencing this year means that we all need to remain vigilant,” explained Ma.
More than 4,200 people are still on evacuation order, while another 65,000 are on alert.
She added that next week as students across B.C. return to school, for some families the school year won’t be the same. There are two public schools in areas under evacuation order and 14 public schools and three independent schools under evacuation alert.
The emergency management and education ministries are working with wildfire-impacted school districts to ensure there is a plan in place for students should their schools not be able to open.
“This may involve supporting students to start school in a neighbouring district, moving schools to another building to start their learning or moving to online learning through one of the provincial online schools.”
Some school districts are providing additional counselling services recognizing that some people have lost their homes.
Ma said the current weather is a sign the province is moving slowly beyond the worst parts of the wildfire season, but a “balanced perspective” is needed. B.C. is far from being in the clear and the wildfires are being exacerbated by the drought.
“While a handful of basins have kicked down a step, we have not experienced anywhere near the rainfall needed to see those levels come down in a significant way. In the northern part of the province, they didn’t see nearly the same level of rain as southern and coastal regions.”
Ma said the northeastern region of the province is expected to continue to see unseasonably warm temperatures, smoke and strong winds, which could then lead to previously under control wildfires becoming out of control again.
Of the province’s 34 water basins, 27 of those are at the two highest drought levels.
More than 1.91 million hectares have burned so far this year from 2,027 wildfires.
There are currently 42 wildfires actively burning in the province, said Ralston. Twelve of those are fires of note that are especially visible or a threat to public safety.
“The weather and rain in the southern half of the province will allow crews to make good progress in the coming days,” said Ralston, adding that BC Wildfire Service has shifted some crews and aircraft to the north in anticipation of increased fire behaviour.
“While these rains are welcome, at this stage, they are not big enough, significant enough, to change the trajectory of the ongoing drought conditions here in the province.”
Ralston explained the drought continues to get worse and much more severe in most of the province. That’s due to several factors including less rain than usual over the last 12 months and an early snow melt.
“At this point, we need several inches or more of rainfall over an extended period to help alleviate our drought conditions.”
As significant rainfall doesn’t usually come until the fall, Ralston said that means much of B.C. can anticipate drought conditions to persist through the province for the next while.
More to come.