Summer has struck Northern British Columbia with a certain intensity this week, as communities across the province endure temperatures as high as 35 degrees celsius during the day. With this comes memories of 2017’s devastating wildfire aftermath, and a province-wide call for caution in this hot, dry weather.
At this time last year, British Columbia was wracked with the threat of over 150 wildfires that threatened multiple communities across the province. Canada is still reeling from the calamitous outcome of the 2016 fire in Fort MacMurray, Alberta. BC’s central interior fought an intense battle against nature, yet by July 8, nearly 20 evacuation orders and emergency alerts had been issued to avoid the aggressively growing fires that stretched from Fort St. John down to the Canada/U.S. Border. This was enough to activate Prince George’s Emergency Operations Centre at the College of New Caledonia in order to assist those affected by these evacuations.
This was not even half of what 2017’s fire season had to offer, however, as by July 11 the extreme evacuation of the Williams Lake area forced the University of British Columbia as well as Prince George Secondary School to open their doors as additional lodging for the approximately 4000 evacuees pouring into Prince George. This, accompanied by the provincial state of emergency that lasted from July 7 to September 15 of 2017, saw the disruption of thousands of British Columbian lives due to fires of both natural and human cause. The university itself was forced to shut down its Northern Sports Centre’s regular operations for the duration of the summer, using the space to house a teeming population of displaced people. UNBC was also forced to issue a warning to students returning for the September semester that while it was unlikely, there would be a possibility that classes may be disrupted for the first week of school. While this was ultimately not the case, it brought perspective to the magnitude of people that were housed within UNBC’s doors and the aid and assistance being provided.
This year, the British Columbia Wildfire Service hopes to be ready in case the province faces similarly rapid growth of fires, especially within the Prince George Fire Area. While approximately one third of the province is rated as “Extreme” in terms of fire danger, none have grown so large that they are considered out of control, and there have been no major evacuations noted on their website.