As a campfire ban comes in effect today across B.C. the provincial government is also warning residents that water restrictions may not be far behind.
Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma announced the ban — which begins at 3 p.m. and affects everywhere except Haida Gwaii — July 10 during an update about the wildfire season, which also served as a platform to prepare people for future measures tied to another threat: water scarcity in the face of worsening drought conditions.
“Many communities are implementing water restrictions already (and) we anticipate the need to escalate those water restrictions in larger areas of the province,” Ma said. “And just for context, the drought situation is serious. We have not experienced this level of widespread drought across the province this early in the year in recent memory.”
Primary areas of concern include the northeastern corner of B.C., as well as the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, Ma said, noting that ministry staff are reaching out to communities to begin discussing more measures.
Half of the 34 provincial water basins are currently experiencing Level 4 drought conditions with Level 5 being the most severe, Ma said, adding that the situation is going to get worse. Since communities may not feel the full effects of drought for weeks, the provincial government is acting now, she said.
“That’s why we are signalling today that the situation is serious,” Ma said.
British Columbians should not only follow already existing water restrictions in their communities, but also do their part by using less water in their daily lives, she said. “We need people to pay attention,” she said, adding that the province will offer a technical briefing later this week.
Meanwhile, today’s campfire ban comes into effect with larger fires already prohibited across much of the province, against a backdrop of increased wildfire activity across the province, with more expected.
“I urge everyone do their part,” Ma said. “Human-caused wildfires are completely preventable and divert critical resources away from lightning-caused fires.”
“Things have certainly escalated very drastically in a large part of the province over the weekend. The last three days saw more than 23,000 lightning strikes across much of province. Since April 1, 904 wildfires have burnt more than a total of 1.15 million hectares.
Ma said drought conditions and high temperatures have compounded this lightning activity, creating a concerning combination.
“It’s the drought condition in addition to the wildfire situation that is really causing concern and causing us to pay very, very close attention,” she said.
Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations for British Columbia Wildfire Service, said B.C. currently lacks the capacity to respond to human-caused fires, including smaller fires that fall into Category 1.
“We have not had a large concern with human-caused campfires creating wildfires, but as Minister Ma mentioned we do not have the capacity to respond to fires that we can prevent.”
Chapman said B.C. has put in what he called a “significant request” to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
“We have asked for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 additional resources,” he said. “We are also working with our partners in Montana, California (and northwestern United States) to secure additional resources, not just for the next five days but really looking at it through the lens of the next two months.”
Chapman said 160 firefighters from the United States and Mexico are currently in B.C. Another 100 Mexican firefighters are set to join but not until July 17, he added. Overall, he predicted an increase of additional resources from abroad, while also stressing the need for people to do their part.
“We are in a position in this province, that we cannot afford to have a preventable fire occur in this province,” he said. “We are asking for help from the globe…to come support our response right now. If we have just one campfire, it gets away and starts a very impactful fire, that’s going to draw resources away from wherever they currently are.”