Weekend sees wildfire at Dick Hart Memorial Park: Low snow year set to impact wildfire risk across the region

Extended drought conditions in valley bottoms creates fuels which could be primed to ignite

Smoke rises from the Dick Hart Memorial Park Wildfire on April 17, 2021. Photo submitted by BC Wildfire Services.

Wildfire activity is already underway in the Kamloops Fire Centre, with 28 wildfires already responded to by crews since April 1, said Gagan Lidhran, information officer with the Kamloops Fire Centre, including one over the weekend in Dick Hart Memorial Park off of Sun Peaks Road.

As of Monday, April 19, ten of the fires are under control or being held while the remaining four of the active 14 fires are new. 

The Dick Hart Memorial Park wildfire is currently classified as “under control” and is estimated to have grown from 1.1 to 4.5 hectares in size since it was discovered on April 17.

The fire, which is thought to have been ignited by human causes during early investigations, is being responded to by six BC Wildfire Service crews who remain on site to extinguish hot spots and patrol the fire.

The public is asked to contribute any information they have for the investigation by calling the Natural Resource Violation Reporting Line at 1-877-952-7277 or by using the online form found here.

Another fire of note is 100 hectares in size outside of Merritt, which is currently threatening a nearby subdivision that has been put under an evacuation alert.

“We have seen some early season spring fires in valley bottoms at lower elevations which were mostly fuelled by grass and needles and driven by wind and sun,” said Lidhran.

She explained the fires are mostly due to the fact the Interior is in a state of extended drought and grasses have not turned green yet, leaving dry fuel for fires in valley bottoms.

When these conditions are mixed with high winds and increasing temperatures, fuel can remain volatile and fires can get out of hand.

While this may sound alarming, Lidhran said the early season fire activity isn’t cause for concern but the conditions may give rise to increased wildfire severity as the season continues.

Wildfire seasonal outlooks are not the easiest forecasts to create, as they are based on long term weather models which Lidhran said is not always reliable until they are only a few days out.

“Wildfire severity and long term forecasts are difficult to predict, but I would say that the below average precipitation that we received over the winter, in combination with the drying out of spring valley bottoms at lower elevations and the dry start to the spring season will definitely impact wildfire risk across the region.”

While low elevation areas are Lidhran’s main concern for the start of the season, the Sun Peaks area has had one fire reported in the general area. The Loakin-Bear Creek Road area 12.5 kilometres northeast of Sun Peaks Road was discovered Tuesday, April 13 and has since been extinguished. 

Lidhran asked people to be mindful of any type of outdoor burning, especially in the Sun Peaks region where people have more access to trails and outdoor activities such as camping and because higher elevation areas can be exposed to higher winds.

“Be mindful of your environment, especially windy conditions when you are conducting any burning. All campfires should be less than half a metre by half a metre and attended at all times until they are cold to the touch.” 

It is also recommended people keep a shovel or eight litres of water nearby in case they need to extinguish the fire, and to create a “fire guard” around the perimeter by removing any fuels down to the organic layer in the dirt so winds cannot ignite proximate fuels.

Off-road vehicles should also stay away from tall grasses or other organic fire fuels and mufflers should be checked often to ensure they cannot ignite surrounding fuels.

Keep up to date with monthly wildfire season outlooks by clicking here and if you do see a forest fire, dial *5555 on your cell phone or call 1-800-663-5595.

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