Record-setting year for wildfires burned 1.2 million hectares in BC

The Southeast portion of British Columbia had more fires than any of the province’s six regions, RDCK directors learned from a report at last Thursday’s monthly meeting in Nelson.

Based at the Castlegar municipal airport, the Southeast fire region extends from the US border to Mica Dam, and from the west side of the Monashee Mountains to the BC/Alberta border on the east.

“This data indicates how fortunate we were in a record-setting year for fires in BC,” Mayor Ron Toyota said on Friday.

Fortunate? There were 372 fires in the Southeast region in 2017 in which 90,472 hectares were burned. By contrast, 271 fires in the Cariboo resulted in 871,071 hectares for forest being burned.

Kamloops was the next hardest hit region, where 269 fires burned 215,412 hectares.

The provincial total of 1.2 million hectares burned, directors were told, equates to more than half of the total size of the RDCK. About $400 million was spent on fire suppression efforts an estimated $200 million in property was recorded.

To put the 90,000-plus hectares burned in the Southeast region into perspective, in the previous 10 years the total amount burned was only 40,000 hectares, or 4,000 hectares per year.

“The efforts required to fight wildfires was astonishing,” Toyota said. On one day alone—September 15—the Southeast Fire Centre coordinated the use of 197 crews (818 firefighters), 38 helicopters and 80 pieces of equipment. Estimated cost for the region’s firefighting efforts runs to $35 million, nearly all of which is born by the Province.

In the Central Kootenay regional district, 10,000 hectares burned over a 66-day period. There were four evacuation alerts and two evacuation orders. Equipment from firehalls in Canyon-Lister, Kaslo, North Shore, Beasley and Ootischenia was used. In addition, Creston firefighting crews and equipment were sent out to help with the province-wide response to the largest recorded fire season in BC history.

“Volunteer firefighters from many local fire departments played a major role in protecting our communities by helping with the suppression efforts and evacuation process,” the report to directors said. “Your expressed gratitude to the crews in your local area would be well received.”

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