2,286,972 hectares – 22,869.7 square kilometers – have burned in the Prince George Fire Centre so far this year.
The highest number of hectares burned on record before this year in the entire province was 1,354,284 in 2018.
Doubling the provincial record for area burned was an operational stress that came with a high cost – $170,000,000 as of the start of October.
That is according to Fire Information Officer Sharon Nickel, who said that cost encompasses “all activities included with fire suppression – all the heavy equipment we hire, all the aviation resources… all our fire camps, that sort of thing.”
She said contracted aircraft flew for a staggering 174 straight days – starting April 27th and ending October 18th, she added that is “absolutely a record for us.”
By July 1st, Nickel said the hectares burned in the fire centre had already passed the previous 10 years combined. Two and a half weeks later, this season had seen more area burned than the last 20 combined.
In fact, she said just the Donnie Creek wildfire alone, which hit just under 600,000 hectares large, burned more area than every other fire centre in the province – combined.
Despite these numbers, Nickel was hesitant to call 2023 the worst fire season on record, saying area burned “does not necessarily corelate with a higher impact on people and communities.”
“We also have to consider our fire centre is 33.6 million hectares in size.”
A massive factor in this year’s fire season, and a primary concern heading into the winter months, was the severe drought the province faced this summer.
“In some areas we are already seeing the ground freeze, and that is happening before we received any substantial rainfall,” Nickel said. “Once the ground freezes, it makes it really difficult for water to penetrate deep enough to counteract those ongoing drought conditions.”
On top of that, the forecast is calling for a dryer winter this year, which Nickel said means fuels will be ready to burn even quicker next year.
“If we continue to have years where we are in drought condition, that increases the amount of forest fuel that is dry and ready for combustion, which means there is potential for more fire,” she explained.
Even though temperatures are dropping and the ground is starting to freeze, there are still fires being fought.
98 fires are still burning in the Prince George Fire Centre.
“Last year we did see the Battleship Mountain and Bearhole Lake wildfires burn into the spring,” Nickel said. “Those were considerably smaller fires than what we have on the landscape right now, so it won’t be unusual to see a number of holdover fires next spring.”
With the strong potential for another bad fire season next year looming, Nickel suggested now is a good time for people in the region to look at fire-smarting their homes.
You can find out more about the 2023 fire season here.