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Donnie Creek wildfire in northeast B.C. now the largest recorded in province’s history

The Donnie Creek wildfire in northeast B.C. has now surpassed the 2017 Plateau fire as the largest, by area burned, ever recorded in the province’s history.

Blaze remains out of control, 2023 season now 3rd worst on record

Plumes of orange and grey smoke rise from a large wildfire.

The Donnie Creek wildfire in northeastern British Columbia has now surpassed the 2017 Plateau fire as the largest individual fire, by area burned, ever recorded in the province’s history.

It was sparked on May 12 by lightning, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS), and covers an area of 5,343.88 square kilometres as of 10 a.m. PT on Sunday. It is still not responding to suppression efforts and remains out of control, according to the BCWS.

Before this year — which has seen an unusually early start to fire season — the largest single fire was the 2017 Plateau fire near Williams Lake, an amalgamation of several smaller fires that burned a total of 5,210 square kilometres.

The wildfire is burning 136 kilometres southeast of Fort Nelson, and 158 kilometres north of Fort St. John, in the province’s Peace River region.

BCWS fire information officer Marg Drysdale said the blaze was “extremely active” on Sunday and that in some pockets, the fire was so aggressive it was burning the tops of trees — what is called “crown fire” behaviour.

“We have cooler conditions today,” she said on Sunday morning. “But this fire is so large that there’s different weather patterns and different weather conditions on different parts of the fire.”

Drysdale said that if the 948-kilometre-long perimeter of the fire was stretched out, it would go from Fort St. John in northeast B.C. all the way to Kamloops in the Central Interior.

While the blaze isn’t burning near major population centres, it has resulted in evacuation orders for a sparsely populated region primarily used by the forestry and oil and gas industries.

It was burning two kilometres away from the critical Alaska Highway route at a point north of Trutch, B.C. Evacuation orders and alerts are in place for a 160-kilometre stretch of the road.

“Our objectives are to protect and keep the Alaska Highway open because we understand what an important corridor that is for many people,” Drysdale said.

Crews conducted planned ignitions around the perimeter of the fire, near the highway, on Friday. The BCWS says the fire perimeter is currently holding at that spot, but warmer weather conditions are expected to return on Thursday.

Drought, high temperatures are factors in fire size

While the Plateau fire previously held the record in 2017, the Plateau fire complex, which consisted of nearby fires, burned an area of 5,451 square kilometres. However, wildfire officials say because the complex consisted of multiple fires burning in separate but nearby areas, they are not considered a single blaze

The Donnie Creek fire now covers an area 1.8 times the size of Metro Vancouver.

Drysdale said the Peace region began facing drought conditions in early May, and there hasn’t been the precipitation that would have helped ward off large fire starts in the spring.

“The fire started in May, which is during what we call spring dip. So, the area hadn’t greened up and vegetation hadn’t accepted the moisture that it normally does,” she said.

“We saw 30 degree temperatures in the spring. And we’ve had high and continuous winds throughout.”

Third worst season on record

Sunday saw B.C. cross a grim milestone, as the 2023 season has already surpassed the 2021 season for the third worst on record, in terms of area burned.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says 8,697.98 square kilometres of land has been charred by fires as of 3 p.m. PT Sunday, passing 2021 for the third worst wildfire season of all time.

Four of B.C.’s five worst years for wildfire destruction have come in the past seven years.

While the BCWS says that technology has improved in recent decades to allow for more accurate wildfire mapping, researchers have found that wildfire seasons have intensified recently due to human-caused climate change.

Sarah Budd, a fire information officer, says that on average in the past decade just over 217 square kilometres would have been burned by this time of the year.

She says that cooler temperatures are likely to stick around in the south of B.C. next week, but northeast B.C. is likely to see a warming trend.

Nearly 80 fires are burning across B.C. as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, and 24 of them are considered out of control.


Akshay Kulkarni


Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

With files from Randi-Marie Adams and Georgie Smyth

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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