62 new wildfires, 29K lightning strikes reported in 24 hours in B.C; state of emergency possible this summer

With dozens of wildfires reported in the last 24 hours alone, a state of emergency may be declared in B.C. this summer.

When asked if it was possible, just over 13 hours after a months-long state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic was called off in the province, Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said, "absolutely."

While the situation is being monitored, Farnworth said a state of emergency, which grants the province additional powers, may be required this summer.

B.C.'s longest wildfire-related state of emergency was in 2017, and lasted 10 weeks, though the just-called-off COVID-19 state was in place for 67 weeks.

Sixty-two wildfires and 29,000 lightning strikes have been reported in just 24 hours.

At a last-minute news conference hosted by Farnworth in Vancouver and B.C. Premier John Horgan in Victoria, the minister addressed wildfires currently burning across the province, and a separate fire tearing through the village of Lytton.

That fire has destroyed most homes and buildings, he said. Several residents are still unaccounted for.

The cause of that fire is still under investigation, but it is not considered a wildfire.

Horgan said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday morning, during which time Ottawa promised help to the residents of the village.

Additionally, federal and provincial support is being promised to those impacted by what may be a challenging wildfire season, with more dry heat in the forecast.

Horgan said he's also asked for more firefighting resources from across the country, which may include members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

'CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH HOW EXTREME THE FIRE RISK IS'

The premier said he expects "weeks and potentially months of intense firefighting."

"I regret to say that this is the third of five years of horrific fires in my time in this job," Horgan said, adding the impacts of climate change will likely include more devastating wildfire seasons and sudden heat waves, similar to what British Columbians experienced earlier this week.

"This is not how we usually roll in a temperate rainforest," he said.

Temperatures along the coast have cooled to seasonal norms, but the "heat dome" that brought highs in the 40s to much of the province is still sitting over areas further inland.

"I cannot stress enough how extreme the fire risk is at this time in almost every part of British Columbia," Horgan said.

The tinder-dry conditions spurred provincial officials to enact a campfire ban across all of B.C., which began on Wednesday. 

Campfires are defined as anything smaller than 0.5 metres wide by 0.5 metres tall. The campfire ban will be in effect until Oct. 15, alongside the larger open fire bans.

The premier urged residents to take precautious to prevent further wildfires, many of which are started by discarding a cigarette or other behaviour.

IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL?

Horgan was asked whether travel plans through the province should be put on hold for the time being.

Earlier this year, all non-essential travel outside of one's designated travel region was barred in B.C. in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 from one community to another. That restriction was recently rescinded.

On Thursday, the premier said travellers are urged to monitor the situation before leaving for their destination. He said it's not a good time to go backcountry camping in some parts of the province, for example.

"Be mindful of your circumstances. The circumstances right now are an extreme high fire warning in various parts of the Interior," he said.