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Heavy Flooding Hits B.C. as Wildfire Season Approaches

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British Columbia is moving into another season of heavy flooding and potentially severe wildfires, with thousands under evacuation orders in the southern Interior and 45 active fires already burning in different parts of the province.

It’s “still too early to reliably predict the wildfire forecast,” National Observer states [1]. But there’s no such uncertainty about flooding, “as warming temperatures combine with rain and melting snow to create historic flood conditions across wide areas of the province,” CBC reports. “Most of the flooding is in the Southern Interior, including the Similkameen, south Okanagan, and Kootenay Boundary regions, where residents are reporting floodwaters up to two metres deep.”

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In Grand Forks, B.C., residents were “working around the clock to try to keep dry as many properties as possible,” CBC reported [3] Friday afternoon. “But with water reaching historic heights, many homes and businesses are filling up with dirty floodwater.” Those waters were “much higher than the levels seen in 1948, the last time the town experienced terrible flooding.”

With a substation flooded and the fire station inundated and electricity out, crews were filling and placing sandbags and looking for emergency generators to power pumps.

“Everyone downtown. It’s all under water. People are getting evacuated,” said Jackson Phipps, 16, one of a large group of volunteers filling sandbags just outside the city core. Regional District information officer Frances Maika said emergency workers were shifting their attention from pumps and power to reaching residents who initially decided against evacuating.

“Now, they’re trapped in their homes, so we have ongoing rescue of a number of residents,” she said. “There’s some good news stories here, in that we have not had reports of injuries—we’ve had close calls.”

Local restauranteur Stuart McGregor stayed up more than 24 hours as he worked to keep his restaurant dry and all the food refrigerated. “I’ve lived here since I was six years old, now I’m 40. I’ve never seen anything like this at all,” he told CBC. “It was bad in the ’90s once—I haven’t seen anything like this, so this is pretty epic.”

A CBC News report early Friday morning identified eight First Nations and seven regional districts that had issued evacuation alerts or orders. For the weekend, CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe was predicting more hot, dry air headed toward the Interior. “Temperatures for the weekend and Monday will be roughly five to 10 degrees above the seasonal average for the Southern Interior, hitting the 30s by next week,” she said.

“It will be a gradual build over the next couple of days,” said David Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre, adding that many parts of the province are nearing their flood record. “Is there enough snow to keep these rivers high?”

While B.C. faced a devastating [4] wildfire season [5] last year, and the Canadian Wildland Forest Strategy predicts more frequent, intense blazes as a result of climate change, National Observer says conditions in the spring aren’t necessarily an indicator for the months ahead.

“In early May last year, there were just 19 fires burning, but in 2016, there were 74. Despite those early numbers, 2017 was the most severe fire season ever experienced in B.C., while 2016 was below average,” writes reporter Tracy Sherlock, citing the B.C. Wildfire Service. “Two of the biggest wildfire drivers—lightning and rain—are beyond the scope of human control,” although the agency is gearing up to try and prevent a repeat of last year’s “firestorm”.