Terrace is grappling with multiple active wildfires in the area, including one marked as “out of control,” while several others are listed as “being held” amid Canada and British Columbia’s worst wildfire season on record.
Among the most prominent wildfires is the area is the Kitsumkalum River fire, located in the Nass Valley just northeast of Terrace, that was discovered on July 13 and updated to “being held,” as of July 20, covering an estimated 1.1 hectares.
Close by, the South Kitsumkalum River fire, located in the Nass Valley as well, that was discovered on July 20 and has been observed as a small spot fire, is currently spanning approximately 0.009 hectares, according to BC Wildfire Service Information Officer Morgan Blois.
The Big Cedar wildfire, located on Sterling Mountain in the Nass Ranges, was discovered on July 11 and saw a swift response from BC Wildfire Service, with an initial attack crew, a helicopter and heavy machinery working over it in the days following to put in containment lines, Blois said.
By July 17, the fire was classified as “being held,” but not before growing to 207 hectares. The Cedar River fire, located just by the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, that was discovered on July 7 shares a similar status, spanning an estimated 200 hectares.
In contrast, the Wilson Creek fire, located just northeast of Cedarvale, was discovered on July 11 and officially called “out” on July 21, having reached a size of 0.5 hectares. Similarly, the Casnorra Creek fire, located just north of the Woodock fire, was discovered on July 7 and spans 0.009 hectares and is classified as “being held.”
However, it’s the Woodcock fire, located just 1.5 kilometres north of the Woodcock airfield, that was discovered on July 10 that raises significant alarm, Blois said. Despite crews’ efforts, this fire remains “out of control” and has grown to 102 hectares, prompting an evacuation alert issued by the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine.
While the wildfire situation near Terrace has improved, the weather forecast for the area certainly isn’t going to remain unfavourable for fire starts.
Environment Canada meteorologist Ken Dosanjh said that temperatures in Terrace for the next week should be generally near to below seasonal and unsettled, but that should change quickly thereafter.
“As we move into early August, there are indications that B.C.’s North Coast will see temperatures above seasonal, but it’s too early to say whether there will be another heat wave,” Dosanjh said.
When asked about why Terrace has been rather dry and hasn’t seen the rainfall or thunderstorms that other nearby areas have seen over the past few weeks, Dosanjh said a ridge of high pressure is to blame.
“It’s pretty common, typically, that a ridge offshore will generally keep the coastal regions dry whereas over the interior we’re looking at mean precipitation that’s highly dependent on our afternoon showers and thunderstorms.”
“With this upper low that’s kind of sitting off the eastern Pacific Ocean, it’s going to be sending impulses towards the North Coast,” Dosanjh said. “I would anticipate that Terrace will start to see more significant precipitation over next week.”
Dosanjh said Environment Canada is seeing some indications of temperatures above seasonal for the month of August, but in terms of precipitation, it’s less clear.
“There’s no explicit indications — whether it’s above, below or normal precipitation — since there’s nothing to go off of; we pretty much have equal weight regarding that,” Dosanjh said. “August will remain a wild card beyond the next couple of weeks.”
The uncertainty over precipitation is definitely concerning, Dosanjh said, since Terrace has already seen a sort of dry spell over the last six months.
Terrace has seen 21.2 millimetres of precipitation for the month of July while the normal is 52.8 millimetres, as of July 21 — roughly 40 per cent of normal. In June, Terrace saw 37.7 millimetres compared to 50.8 millimetres — about 74.2 per cent.
“It’s generally drier this month thus far,” Dosanjh said. “Last month was also drier as well.”
Looking at the picture beyond the past two months, Dosanjh said that during meteorological spring, which consists of March, April and May, Terrace saw 134.4 millimetres of precipitation while the average is 224.5 millimetres — about 59.9 per cent of the normal.
The lack of precipitation has led the Skeena-Nass Basin, which includes Terrace, to placed under a Drought Level 3 - Adverse Impacts Possible warning by the B.C. River Forecast Centre. Just a few kilometres south of Terrace, a Drought Level 5 - Adverse Impacts Almost Certain warning has been issued for the Bulkley-Lakes Basin.
Dosanjh said that “many parts of our province are already experiencing the devastating impacts of wildfires, which are being driven by the higher temperatures and above seasonal dryness. The B.C. River Forecast Centre has eight out 34 regions listed under a Drought Level 5 - Adverse Impacts Almost Certain warning — the highest level possible, while 13 are under a Drought Level 4 - Adverse Impacts Likely warning and 11 are under a Drought Level 3 - Adverse Impacts Possible warning.
“We’re definitely below our target threshold regarding precipitation,” Dosanjh said. “Rain is much needed at this time, especially with the convection that we’ve been seeing over the central interior, where there are lots of lightning strikes occurring, which are just amplifying the threat for more wildfires to occur.”
Efforts to prevent and control the wildfires are in full swing. Campfires have been banned in the Skeena Fire Zone, including Terrace and Kitimat, since July 10, with Category 1 fires — small fires used for warmth or cooking — strictly prohibited. Penalties for violating these restrictions are severe, with fines starting at $1,150 and going up to $1 million if a violation leads to a wildfire.
As the summer heat has scorched the landscape over the last few weeks in the Terrace area, Canada is grappling with an escalating wildfire situation, marking this year’s wildfire season as the worst in Canadian and British Columbian history.
According to BC Wildfire Service, as of late afternoon on July 17, the province has witnessed 1,159 wildfires consuming more than 1.39 million hectares. Previously, the worst fire season on record had been in 2018, when 2,117 fires destroyed 1.34 million hectares.
The bulk of the fires this year are in the Prince George Fire Centre’s area, covering northeastern B.C. That region alone has had 382 wildfires taking up close to 1.25 million hectares.
This record-setting trend is not limited to British Columbia. Canada has also set a record for the amount of land burned in a single year. As of June 26, national wildfire statistics showed 76,129 hectares destroyed by wildfire, surpassing the previous record set during 1989.
With files from John Arendt
Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.