By Alan Smith, Meteorologist Posted 4 months ago July 10, 2023
Wildfire Activity Increasing Across British Columbia
Drought conditions, recent hot temperatures, and numerous lightning strikes have resulted in an uptick in wildfire activity across British Columbia in recent days. As of early Monday morning, July 10th, the British Columbia Wildfire Service had reported 98 new fires in 24 hours, with about 75% of these fires caused by lightning.
Current BC Fire Situation as of July 10th:
Fire season is off to a rough start across BC, Alberta, and the entire country of Canada as a whole. May and June featured severe fire activity across Central and Northern Alberta as well as Northeast BC.
Rain has helped with fires to varying degrees across Alberta, but BC has seen a recent surge of (mostly) lightning-triggered fires in the July 7th-9th timeframe.
The largest and most severe fires are currently located across Northern BC, but fire coverage has increased across Central BC as well with a handful of fires across Southern BC.
Check out the wildfire burn perimeters across BC so far in 2023, with numerous large areas across Northern BC in particular.
The largest fire is the Donnie Creek Fire located in Northeast BC between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John. This fire is the largest on record in BC and has burned 580,313 hectares (1.4 million acres) since it began on May 14th!
Other significant fires in terms of acreage include the Big Creek Fire which has burned 47,029 hectares (116,211 acres) since June 7th and the Nation River Fire which has burned 13,801 hectares (34,103 acres) since June 28th. Both of these fires are located north of Prince George and just west of Williston Lake.
Many of the more recent lightning-triggered fire starts occurred across the Fraser Plateau in Central BC, west of Prince George and Williams Lake and east of Bella Coola.
What About Alberta?
Northern and Western Alberta experienced a severe start to fire season back in May and early June. Wetter conditions have helped the situation in the Canadian Rockies closer to Jasper and Edmonton, while significant wildfires continue to burn across Far Northern Alberta.
What is the Smoke Situation from BC and Alberta Wildfires?
Heavy smoke from numerous wildfires is impacting Central and Northern BC as well as Northern and Central Alberta on Monday. Areas along the BC Coast are escaping the smoke thanks to onshore westerly winds.
As the week progresses, smoke is expected to increase across the Interior of BC and the Canadian Rockies, including popular areas such as Mt. Revelstoke National Park, the BC Powder Highway, Banff National Park, and Jasper National Park.
Later this week (Wednesday to Friday), smoke may also impact Waterton Lakes National Park and possibly northern/eastern portions of Glacier National Park across the border in the U.S. These areas are on the fringe of projected smoke transport, though.
Aside from the Glacier National Park area, most areas of the Western U.S. will miss out on the smoke from Canadian fires at least this week as west/northwest winds will transport this smoke into the Northern Plains states instead.
The caveat is that any new fire starts or significant fire growth further south across Southern BC could put the Northern U.S. Rockies in play for smoke eventually.
Weather Outlook Across Western Canada:
The weather pattern is a good news/bad news scenario across BC this week. A series of shortwave disturbances will result in active weather throughout the week, favoring Eastern BC and Western Alberta for frequent afternoon showers and thunderstorms.
The good news is that thunderstorms will have the potential to produce moderate to locally heavy rainfall. The bad news is that rainfall will be hit-or-miss in nature, and cloud-to-ground lightning and gusty winds associated with thunderstorms could also lead to new fires or an uptick in fire behavior for existing fires.
Also, the heaviest rainfall is expected across the easternmost portions of BC over the next 5 days, while the Canadian Rockies of Western Alberta have even greater potential for heavier and more widespread rainfall. This is good news for these areas, but not the best news for the areas where the most significant fires are ongoing.
Also, temperatures will continue to be hotter than average across Western Canada this week, though the added moisture will result in relative humidity values remaining above critical values at least. Cloud-to-ground lightning and thunderstorm wind gusts will be the main fire weather concerns this week.
Environment Canada has much of BC under Very High to Extreme fire danger on Monday with lower danger across the Canadian Rockies in Alberta.
By Friday (July 14), Environment Canada projects a relative decrease in fire danger for much of BC, though this will be highly dependent on which areas receive wetting rains versus those who see little or no rain. Fire danger is expected to be Low throughout Western Alberta by late this week.
Here is a rainfall projection for the next 5 days via the European Model:
There is some potential good news in the medium to long range. Next week (July 16th-22nd), models are hinting at a low pressure system arriving from the Pacific that could dip a bit further south and west into Central BC.
Depending on the track of this system, there is a chance that ongoing fires in Central BC could receive more beneficial moisture along with cooler temperatures. However, this is at least a week away, so confidence is low this far out.