Some Upper Columbia Valley residents may not have noticed a bit of smoke and haze in the air just prior to the the Labour Day long weekend, but the source was not a wildfire in the region — rather it was a series of prescribed burns just to the south.
The Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) Wildfire Service conducted several controlled burns in the Southeast Fire Centre, some southeast of Cranbook on Wednesday, August 31st and some northeast of Kimberley on Thursday, September 1st
The controlled burns bear Kimberly included a 170-hectare one on the Estella Mine site (about 27 kilometres northeast of Kimberley) and a 300-hectare one in the Wolf Creek area (about eight kilometres from the Estella Mine site), and both were part of a habitat enhancement prescription within the Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District.
“They are resource mitigation burns that are being done to enhance the wildlife habitat in the area, particularly for mule deer and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and to help the plants the deer and bighorn sheep eat,” said B.C. Wildfire Service Southeast Fire Centre fire communication specialist Karlie Shaughnessy. “It (the prescribed burns) also helps maintain open sightlines and migration corridors that are key habitat components for both species.”
Other benefits from the burn include reducing forest encroachment and reducing fire fuel loads.
Shaughnessy said that the Wildfire Service is conducting the burns in tandem with the Rocky Mountain Ecosystem Trench Restoration Program.
“From our perspective, we are essentially conducting the burns for them. We ignite, conduct and control the burns,” she said.
A press release, put out before the burns began, mentioned that these types of resource management open burns are done under the authority of the Wildfire Act; that the fires follow a clearly defined burn plan; and that the fire are done in such as was as to minimize the amount of smoke generated.
The press release also emphasized that highly trained BC Wildfire Service firefighters and ignition specialists conduct the burns; and that the fires are allowed to burn out naturally but are carefully monitored by Wildfire Service staff at all times.
When the Echo contacted Ms. Shaughnessy on Thursday, September 1st, she said the burns were going quite well.
“As of right now they are going off wonderfully, and staying within their control lines,” she said, adding many people had called asking why the burns were being done at this time of year.
“These burns wouldn’t be successful if the landscape was saturated and since we are expecting significant amounts of rain in the next 24 to 36 hours and onward, now is our window of opportunity,” said Ms. Shaughnessy, adding another factor that played into the decision was the relatively low number of wildfires in the area this year as compared with other recent years.
“We’ve had 181 fires to date, 130 of them lightning caused, covering a total of 459 hectares. The five-year average at this time of year is 221 fires, covering more than 4,000 hectares. So we’re below average on number of fires and well below average in the size of the fires. From that perspective it’s been a fairly slow summer,” she said.
Ms. Shaugnessy did caution, however, that there had been 23 lightning-caused fires in the Kootenay and Arrow Lakes region during the first half of the last week, but added that “the East Kootenay doesn’t have a lot going on.”
The prescribed burns near Kimberley were funded by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.
To learn more about the Wildfire Service’s prescribed burns and ecosystem restoration visit https://news.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/prescribed-burns-and-ecosystem-restoration-burns?WT.cg_n=HootSuite.