A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. Fire conditions for Western Canada are a concern as the summer approaches, but everything depends on what kind of weather the next few months bring, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. Fire conditions for Western Canada are a concern as the summer approaches, but everything depends on what kind of weather the next few months bring, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

Dry spring can create wildfire trouble for Western Canada, experts say

‘It just doesn’t depend on June,’ says one expert

Wildfire conditions are cause for concern this year as parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia report either significant drought or record low rainfall between January and April,experts say.

However, the severity of the wildfire season will depend on what kind of weather the next few months bring, they say.

Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, said May is the busiest month for wildfires in Alberta, and June and July for the rest of Canada except for B.C. where it is August.

“It just doesn’t depend on June,” he said. “It depends on the weather during June, July and August.”

The recent trend, Flannigan said, has seen a decrease in the number of fires but an increase in the area burned caused by more lightning strikes.

Lightning-caused fires happen in remote areas, tend to be larger and occur in clusters that may overwhelm fire management authorities, he said.

It takes time to report and reach them, he said, and hot, dry and windy days exacerbate the fires.

“If you don’t get to the fire when it’s small — by small I mean smaller than a soccer pitch — you have a real problem,” Flannigan said.

“The longer it takes you to get to the fire, the more likely the fire is going to escape and get large.”

Flannigan said spring is coming earlier across Western Canada and that dries out the vegetation, making it easy for a fire to start and spread.

“It means that the higher intensity, the more challenging or difficult or impossible (it is) to extinguish if it gets bigger than that football field.”

Lori Daniels, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia, said the fire season in B.C. will depend on how much rain falls in June and July.

“So it’s really kind of the canary in the coal mine — the weather between now and the end of June.”

The record-breaking fire season of 2017 in B.C.saw fairly cool conditions in May and early June but warm and dry weather towards the end of the month, she said.

“The weather channel becomes my favourite channel to watch when trying to predict what’s going to happen with our fire seasons because I watch to see where is our high pressure, which gives us sunny, hot conditions,” she said.

“It means that there are no clouds forming, we’re not going to get rain, and if you get lightning and wind, those combined with those sunny, hot conditions, we’re in trouble in terms of fire season.”

Western forests also have plenty of flammable material in the combination of living and dead trees.

Flannigan said dead wood caused by mountain pine beetles, spruce budworm or other pests can lead to crown fires, where high-intensity fires in the tree tops cause “massive walls of flames” and are extremely difficult or almost impossible to extinguish.

For now, Flannigan and Daniels say they are in fire-watch mode.

Last year was quiet, while 2019 was busy in Canada. The two previous years were record breakers in B.C., Flannigan said.

“So, you know, it’s a roller-coaster,” he said.

“I can’t tell you what it’s going be. I can tell you what’s happened by far. We’re above average. But what’s the rest of the fire season going to look like? I don’t know.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Weather

Just Posted

Tyler O’Neill has a shot at making the NL all-star team. (Taka Yanagimoto/St. Louis Cardinals)
Executive director of the Friends In Need Food Bank Mary Robson with Darrell Jones, president of Save-On-Foods. (The News files)
Save-On-Foods 4th annual campaign for Maple Ridge food bank starts Thursday, June 17

50 per cent of net proceeds from Western Family brand to be donated

A white bicycle marks the intersection where Dillan Fernando was killed in Pitt Meadows on May 15. (Special to The News)
Family of cyclist killed in Pitt Meadows raising money for Sri Lankan tech centre in his honour

Computer hub would give underprivileged children access to equipment they can not afford

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air traffic at Pitt Meadows Airport returning

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Emiko Nakai will attend Warner Pacific University in Portland, Oregon next year. (Special to The News)
Three SRT Titans earn scholarships

Maple Ridge’s Emiko Nagai, Lucas Hutchinson, and Cade Armour will take talents to college level

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
VIDEO: Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lotto Max jackpot goes unclaimed again

42 of the 64 Maxmillion prizes of $1 million were won, the majority were sold in Ontario

FILE - This July 6, 2017 file photo shows prescription drugs in a glass flask at the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Contaminants in generic drugs may cause long-term harm to DNA: B.C. researcher

Scientist says findings suggest high volume overseas facilities require strict regulation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., on April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Labour shortages, closed borders major obstacles to B.C. restaurant, tourism restarts

Industry expert says it won’t start to recover until international travellers can visit

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Most Read