B.C. may close backcountry because of wildfire risk
A mix of dry conditions and forecast lightning has officials in British Columbia considering closing access to a vast section of its backcountry to mitigate the wildfire risk.
Restrictions on access to all Crown land in the Cariboo fire centre would go into effect at noon on Friday as the province continues to battle what Premier John Horgan has said is the worst fire season since the 1950s. A final decision was scheduled to be made Friday morning.
There were 148 fires burning in the province on Thursday with the majority of new starts in recent days attributed to lightning.
B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said the increased threat of naturally caused fires means it’s more important than ever to prevent human-caused fires.
“We have very, very dry conditions all around the province, so any additional fires starting have implications about the resources available to fight them,” he said.
About 3,700 personnel including firefighters, crew from other provinces and overseas and forestry contractors are working under the BC Wildfire Service in response to the crisis.
Kevin Skrepnek with the wildfire service said a low pressure system rolling in today will bring cooler conditions and thundershowers, but it’s unclear whether the combination of rain and lightning will help or hinder fire fighting efforts.
Worsening fire conditions in the Anahim Lake area, in the Central Coast Regional District, prompted an evacuation order Thursday, affecting a number of small communities including the Ulkatcho First Nation.
The First Nation’s website says roughly 700 people live on the reserve in the area with another 200 members off-reserve. Residents are being directed to reception centres in Prince George.
The final decision on the backcountry restriction will depend on wind conditions. Donaldson added exemptions to some sites in the region that have a lower risk for fires is possible.
A restriction order would mean people cannot remain in or enter the area without the prior written authorization. Exceptions include people who are travelling to or from their principle residence, a person acting in an official capacity or those who support efforts to fight wildfires.
Smoke from wildfires burning in central British Columbia hangs in the air as tourists tour the harbour on the Constitution paddlewheel boat, in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday.