'The new reality': Expert warns B.C.'s fire seasons growing longer with climate change

A motorist watches from a pullout on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, July 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

As crews in B.C. battle hundreds of wildfires across the province, one local expert has warned the province's fire seasons will likely get worse with climate change.

Lori Daniels, wildfire expert at the University of British Columbia, told CTV Morning Live Tuesday that B.C. has already seen a "really early start to the fire season."

"Not every year will be a bad fire season but we're seeing with climate change that those warmer, drier conditions and longer fire seasons are meaning that they're coming more frequently and when they do come, they're more intense," she said.

Daniels said this year is "unfortunately looking a lot like the summer of 2017." That season saw 1.2 million hectares burn and led to a record-breaking state of emergency.

"We're seeing with climate change longer fire seasons. Springs are coming earlier, we're not getting as much snowpack in some years," Daniels said.

"When you melt out that snow early and begin to dry out the land early in the spring and then you add the heat of the summer on top of it, we're having more extreme fire danger conditions."

Data posted by the BC Wildfire Service Tuesday morning suggested there were 214 active fires as of 10 a.m. Nearly one-third of the fires are considered out of control.

A few weeks into B.C.'s wildfire season provincial officials have already counted 723 fires total. About half of the fires noted this year are believed to have been human-caused.

Daniels said B.C.'s Interior often sees more fires because it's the hottest and driest part of the province. However, even the coastal regions of the province are at risk.

"We need to be really cautious and make sure that there aren't any accidental human ignitions because even our coastal forests are prime for fire right now," she said.

Daniels said work needs to be done at all levels of government and individually to improve the situation. For example, locals should be fire smarting their homes and properties, while on a wider level, efforts need to be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she said. 

"The chance of an extreme fire and ignition are increasing and they're only going to get worse as temperatures continue to warm," Daniels said.

"So this is the new reality that we live in and, unfortunately, it's probably going to get a little bit worse before it gets better."