Fire officials note while the cooler and rainy July weather has helped to lower the fire danger rating across the Coastal Fire Centre, the potential for forest fires remains.
Marg Drysdale, fire information officer for the centre, says the moderate rating – meaning forest fuels are drying and there is an increased risk of surface fires starting – in the Courtenay/Comox region may be deceiving.
“The rain in the area helps to dampen the forest fuel, and within the next few days … there may be more precipitation. It should drop the rating even lower.”
The danger class ratings range in a four-point scale from low to extreme.
While the rain does help, some areas may not get rain on the coast, and depending on vegetation (large trees), the precipitation may not hit the forest floor, she added.
Although there currently is no campfire prohibition in place, Drysdale warned people may be putting campfires in drier locations near their campsite, and then forget to extinguish the ashes.
“Even though you may be wringing out your socks, fire can sit in an ash pit for some time.”
There have been 77 fires to date in 2016 (to July 11) in the Coastal Fire Centre region, which covers the area south on the Lower Mainland north through Haida Gwaii.
Of those fires, 67 have been human-caused, and 10 lightning-caused.
Drysdale explains on a 10-year average, there are 73 fires in the region, 58 human-caused and 15 caused by lightning strikes.
While she says it’s “slightly surprising” the current number is above average, it’s impossible for the centre to determine if the number of fires will continue to grow.
“It all depends on the number of human starts; we never predict that number. (Overall) the number depends on a few factors: if we have a really hot and dry September and October, how long the season lasts, and the number of human-caused fires.”
At the end of June, southern/eastern Vancouver Island, including the Comox Valley, moved to Level 4 drought conditions by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
While the rating covers the area from Sooke, Victoria, Port Renfrew to Campbell River on the east side of the Island, Drysdale says it shouldn’t affect teams responding to fires.
“While we might not be able to get to small ponds (for water), there are larger bodies of water we can use, especially if we’re using helicopters with buckets or water bombers. We might not be able to go to the closest source, but we do have the ability to go further away.”
She adds initial attack crews carry water to the site and also use foam to fight fires.
Greig Bethel, public affairs officer for the ministry, notes while they can’t speculate if or when drought levels will go up or down, provincial staff work closely with other agencies to monitor conditions, communicate with water licensees, local governments and others.
He adds many communities within the province are prepared to deal with water supply shortages and low streamflow conditions by drought management plans and water conservation programs that are already in place.
With low water levels around the region, freshwater fishing was closed July 1 on most rivers and streams on the Island due to low rainfall and high temperatures.
The west side of the Island, and areas north of Campbell River sit at a Level 3 rating.