Residents in British Columbia are on edge after the most destructive fire season on record last year, with more than 2.84 million hectares of forest and land burned.

Residents in several communities in British Columbia and Alberta are bracing for possible evacuations after wildfires erupted over the weekend.

The early onset of flames underlines an ominous year ahead, with both provinces grappling with severe drought conditions.

The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) reported multiple wildfires in the central Interior and Cariboo regions over the weekend, with at least one fire categorized as out of control and expanding in the Quesnel area. The flames have also triggered two evacuation alerts, including for the small community of Endako.

Sarrah Storey, mayor of Fraser Lake, about a 10-minute drive from Endako, said it was stressful for residents in the region.

“We never want to see them start in April. We have had them start in May, but having two fires already and within our area, so close together, within a couple of days of each other. It’s really tough.”

Residents in British Columbia are on edge after the most destructive fire season on record last year, with more than 2.84 million hectares of forest and land burned and tens of thousands of people forced from their homes.

The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako said in an alert issued Sunday afternoon that Endako, a community of several dozen properties alongside Highway 16, is under threat.

Meanwhile, the Cariboo Regional District issued an alert on Sunday night covering six parcels of land over 32 square kilometres, saying a fire in the Burgess Creek area is dangerous and residents should prepare to leave on short notice.

BCWS says the Burgess Creek fire, about 600 kilometres north of Vancouver, was discovered on Saturday and has grown to 1,600 hectares in size.

In Alberta, an evacuation alert was issued for Saprae Creek Estates on Sunday, a hamlet in the province’s north, because of the potential of a nearby wildfire spreading toward the community.

Sandy Bowman, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said in a video shared online on Monday that residents should avoid the area while fire crews are actively engaged. He specifically cautioned against the use of personal drones. He noted this is “a critical time of year” and cautioned people to be careful when in or near forested areas.

On Monday, a wildfire broke out in a rural area of Lac Ste. Anne County, prompting Alberta Emergency Management Agency to issue an alert. Residents of Bilby Common were asked to prepare to evacuate within 30 minutes. But the alert was cancelled two hours later when the fire was brought under control.

BC Wildfire Service information officer Jaedon Cooke said a spring wildfire season is common in British Columbia and the current long-range forecasts by BCWS suggest a high potential for an active spring season.

Still, information posted by BCWS suggests it is too early to predict what the summer may entail because it will matter how much rain falls and for how long. It says that meteorologists are skeptical about the likelihood of adequate rainfall.

James Whitehead, an engagement analyst for the mitigating wildfire project at Simon Fraser University, noted fires at this time of year aren’t unusual. He said they are especially typical in late April and May in Northern B.C. and Alberta.

What is unusual this time of year is how dry the conditions are, he added.

“We definitely have the potential with a week or two of hot, dry weather to have a pretty bad early season,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Whitehead said fire behaviour in recent years has been unusual compared to historical patterns.

“Fires are spreading very, very quickly and becoming much, much bigger. And they’re essentially almost impossible to put out,” he said.

Ms. Cooke said in a statement that BCWS has been preparing for the coming season by, among other things, establishing control lines, which are corridors where all fuel is removed from the ground and which serve as a way to slow a wildfire’s progress. The service also said it is offering enhanced training for wildfire fighters.

There are currently 119 fires burning in B.C., 78 of which started since April 1, with 31 already declared extinguished.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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