Gary Ellis sets up irrigation to protect his property from wildfire at 150 Mile House. The BC Cattlemen’s Association is working with the Cariboo Regional District to cut red tape for ranchers staying inside evacuated areas who are protecting their homes and livestock. (Troy Weil photo)

July wildfires have been ‘almost unprecedented’: Skrepnek

377,000 hectares have burned so far

There are 154 fires burning across the province as of Tuesday afternoon.

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said that the province has spent $138.1 million fighting 771 wildfires that have burned 377,000 hectares. The 2017 fire season has now cost the province over double the 10-year -average. It far exceeds the 2016 fire season costs, which as of July 25 sat at $79 million. It’s yet to beat 2015 however, which sat at $146 million as July 25.

RELATED: Wildfire evacuation numbers beginning to decline

There were 12 new fires started on Monday – a number that continues to trend down.

The province has 4,300 ground crew, including both firefighters and support staff, fighting fires. Of those, 1,000 come from out of province and 2,000 are forest industry contractors. They are supported by 180 aircraft.

The contractors, Skrepnek said, are often used for mop-up, allowing the BC Wildfire Service firefighters to focus on more active blazes. They also include more specialized staff such as fallers and danger tree assessors.

Skrepnek noted that while “we’re not seeing the level of violent fire behaviour” they have in past days, there is still “a high degree of dryness.”

“It’s looking at sunny and dry across most of B.C,” he said. “The weather is really going to be a deciding factor as to how things will unfold.”

The end of July is typically when the province sees their highest levels of fire activity, Skrepnek said.

“We’ve had an almost unprecedented July already,” he said. “Just because we have seen, in some areas, a lessening of the activity we’re seeing out there we don’t want people getting complacent.”

RELATED: Reentry to start for 100 Mile and South Cariboo

He remains concerned over lighting and winds coming Wednesday and Thursday.

“Those are going to be a challenge,” Skrepnek said. “In some cases that is going to be dry lightning and of course dry lighting has been a key factor in terms of igniting new fires over the past month.”

He said that although some fire zones did receive rain over the weekend, it hasn’t made much of a dent in the overall dry conditions.

“With how dry things have been and given the fact that we’re not seeing any immediate rain in the forecast… things are rebounding back quite quickly,” Skrepnek said. “We’ve got a lot of summer ahead of us and no reprieve in sight.”

Emergency Management BC executive director Chris Duffy said that people remain under evacuation in B.C. There are currently 36 evacuation orders and 42 evacuation alerts active. While many remain in Prince Goerge and Kamloops, a few thousand have trickled into the Lower Mainland

RELATED: Wildfire evacuee numbers rise to 2,400 at Cloverdale evacuation centre

The Red Cross has had 49,992 people register for assistance.

Duffy said that there are no total costs for how much emergency assistance has cost the province.

VIDEO: Red Cross ramps up wildfire relief efforts

The province continues to operate both its central emergency operations centre and its three regional centres in Prince George, Kamloops and Nelson.

The British Columbia Economic Development Association and FortisBC have launched a hotline to help business get back on their feet. The number is 1-877-422-3377.

Major wildfires:

More to come.

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