Hopes for calmer B.C. wildfire season hinge on June weather

Ongoing drought conditions across British Columbia have the BC Wildfire Service gearing up for a difficult season, but there is still time for rain to relieve the dryness

A lot of eyes are on B.C. after Canada's record-breaking wildfire season in 2023, with the province preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

The 2024 season got off to an early start with scores of wildfires sparked this spring, some of which are considered holdover blazes from 2023.

Adding to the concerns for the summer season is the persistently dry or even drought conditions. The latest drought monitor issued on April 30 reflects the precipitation deficit continuing for many communities, with numerous locales experiencing extreme and exceptional drought conditions.

April 30, 2024 B.C. drought monitor

CANADA'S WILDFIRES: Visit The Weather Network's wildfire hub to keep up with the latest on the active start to wildfire season across Canada.

So, does that mean B.C. will have another busy wildfire season this year? It depends on how June plays out, weather-wise.

If there is plenty of rainfall, then the rest of the wildfire season may be a "little bit less active," says Brett Soderholm, a fire weather forecaster with the BC Wildfire Service.

However, if there isn't an adequate amount of precipitation, officials will anticipate July and August being "much more active."

Content continues below
Jaclyn Whittal: Keremeos Creek wildfire. B.C. wildfire. British Columbia

(Jaclyn Whittal/The Weather Network)

"Things right now, as we are seeing internally, are looking a little bit spicy, especially for our spring season," said Soderholm, in a recent interview with The Weather Network.

'Recipe' in place for an active wildfire season

The current drought that is prevalent in the province is the "main driver" of the potential direction the wildfires will go in this season, Soderholm said.

"We're looking at historic drought, some communities just outside of Prince George [are] receiving less than 50 per cent of their yearly rainfall for over two years in a row now," said Soderholm. "Combine that with very low streamflow levels and a below-average snowpack, we've certainly got a recipe for a very active fire season ahead."

One of the issues for this season are the wildfires in 2023 that kept going through the winter since they were never fully extinguished, Soderholm said.

BC wildfire Jaclyn Whittal

(Jaclyn Whittal/The Weather Network)

Content continues below

"We know that it's simply a matter of time before these fires start to reinvigorate," said Soderholm.

All the holdover fires need to intensify again are strong winds, and warm and dry conditions. If the conditions come to fruition, the blazes are going to be "off to the races as at work," he said.

"The biggest variable, though, is we don't know how June is going to be progressing," said Soderholm.

WATCH: How animals cope with wildfires — in the days and years after the burn

Officials watch closely for conditions following a cold front passage

When looking at the most favourable conditions for wildfire activity, Soderholm said officials pay close attention after the passages of cold fronts.

When that happens, "we expect really gusty and erratic winds, which will translate to erratic fire behaviour." As well, the front will typically generate a thunderstorm, so that means lightning will be a threat.

"So, the combination of getting a radical fire behaviour with pre-existing fires, and the threats of new fires stemming from lightning, it's really something we watch very closely," said Soderholm.

Content continues below
B.C. Wildfire Service: The Donnie Creek wildfire is burning north of Fort St. John, B.C. 2023. This massive blaze has scorched almost 6,000 square kilometres of land. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

(BC Wildfire Service)

In terms of an ideal forecast to aid crews battling blazes, the B.C. fire weather forecaster said it would contain "relatively cool, cloudy and rainy conditions, or even humid conditions."

"Obviously, getting widespread, continuous rainfall is going to be really helpful in preventing a wildfire from growing," said Soderholm. "But, even if we don't get actual meaningful precipitation, having cooler, cloudier and humid conditions allows our crews to action that fire with a greater chance of success."

Fire activity stretching into September in northern sections

"Historically speaking," a significant amount of wildfires tend to lose their intensity as early as late August, Soderholm said.

However, for the past two seasons, the BC Wildfire Service has seen "really extreme fire behaviour" in communities as far north as Fort Nelson, for example, persisting well into September.

"There have been some changes these past few years, which have definitely been anomalous. Historical trends just really aren't matching up with what we're seeing anymore," said Soderholm.

Content continues below
BC wildfires - Nashwito Creek area - lots of candling across the lake. (Jaclyn Whittal/The Weather Network)

(Jaclyn Whittal/The Weather Network)

Expanding on historical trends, he said officials are seeing the length of fire seasons increase, and the type of fire activity they're encountering on the landscape is "certainly getting more extreme."

"Over these past few seasons, it has become readily apparent that this is not the climate of our grandfather's age. That's kind of a term that we've been throwing around internally here, but things are certainly changing," said Soderholm.

The current outlook given to The Weather Network from the BC Wildfire Service should be valid through May, he said, noting that updates for the rest of the summer will become available on the first days of June and July.

"Then, depending on that, we may continue to issue new monthly updates usually around the first of the month. These should be easily available to be found on the BC wildfire Service website," said Soderholm.

WATCH: Four steps to protect your home and prepare for wildfire season

Thumbnail courtesy of Mitch Miller, taken in Hope, B.C.

Follow Nathan Howes on X, formerly known as Twitter.