Dormant wildfires in British Columbia reignite, raising early concerns for the 2024 season

February 15, 2024
trees burned by wildfire

Dormant wildfires resurface in British Columbia

Wildfires that had gone dormant over the winter are now visible again, producing smoke and smoldering in the northeastern quadrant of British Columbia, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

These fires, known as “holdover fires,” have been spotted primarily in the Prince George Fire Centre area.

The service explained that these fires could remain dormant or undetected for an extended period after they start, often due to deep underground movement.

“A holdover fire is a fire that remains dormant and/or undetected for a considerable time after it starts,” the B.C. Wildfire Service stated, noting that such fires are commonly sparked by lightning or are of considerable size.

Early signs of the wildfire season

The early reappearance of these holdover fires is unusual, with notices typically being issued later in the year, around March or April.

However, following B.C.’s most destructive wildfire season on record and historically low precipitation levels, officials had been bracing for the 2024 wildfire season to commence earlier than usual.

“This smoke is not necessarily a risk to the public in any way, shape or form,” said James Bergen, a wildfire officer for the Fort St. John Fire Zone.

Bergen reassured that there is currently no risk of fire growth or significant fire spread.

The B.C. Wildfire Service is monitoring the situation closely, planning to use infrared scans to track the holdover fires as spring approaches.

The role of weather patterns in wildfire behavior

Robert Gray, a wildland fire ecologist, highlighted the ability of fires to burn underneath the top layer of soil for months, becoming more visible as conditions dry.

“There’s a lot of these fires on the landscape now, especially in the north because the layer of the forest fuel bed dried out enough,” Gray commented.

The El Niño weather pattern, known for bringing milder, drier winter weather, is expected to exacerbate conditions in drought-stricken B.C., potentially leading to another hot, dry wildfire season.

“This could end up being another very, very hot, dry season,” Gray added.

FSJA Comment

The early emergence of dormant wildfires in British Columbia signals a potentially early start to the 2024 wildfire season, underscoring the challenges posed by climate variability and drought conditions.

As these holdover fires become active again, the importance of monitoring and preparedness becomes evident.

The situation illustrates the complex interplay between weather patterns, such as El Niño, and wildfire behavior, highlighting the need for continuous adaptation in fire management strategies.

With the prospect of another challenging wildfire season ahead, the emphasis on early detection, public awareness, and readiness to deploy firefighting resources is crucial for mitigating risks and protecting communities.

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