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Whistler FireSmart assessments up

rivers in the region flowing below normal levels



With images of Fort McMurray still fresh in their minds, Whistlerites have been much more proactive in FireSmarting their properties this year.

"We're probably doing half a dozen a week at least, and at times more," said Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) Chief Geoff Playfair, adding that there are "definitely more" assessments taking place this year than in years past.

"That's been steady through the summer, and a number of stratas have been getting assessments done too."

There have been a few small, lightning-caused fires in the area this summer — including one on Whistler Mountain in June and most recently in the Rutherford Creek area near Pemberton — but it's been mostly quiet for the WFRS to this point.

"For the most part, in terms of issues in the parks or out on the trails, we haven't had a lot of trouble this year, and partly that speaks to the fact that it's been a relatively modest summer," Playfair said.

"We've certainly had some issues with people burning without permits and what have you, and we've dealt with those and tickets have been handed out when those have occurred."

But that doesn't mean people should stop being vigilant — recent sunny weather has had Whistler's fire danger rating stuck on "high" for more than a week.

"The message is that although we're getting precipitation on a fairly regular basis it seems, the woods are generally drying, and at this time of year, when the heat turns on, things dry out very quickly, so we'll bump from a moderate to a high quickly," Playfair said.

"And so although it seems as though summer is not summer, when the heat turns on, we still need to be vigilant... we're in summer forest fire conditions once the sun comes out."

Province-wide, there have been 651 forest fires to date, burning a total area of 93,673 hectares. The Coastal Fire region accounts for just 98 fires over 100 hectares this year.

For comparison, 2015 had 1,858 total fires burning 280,605 hectares, while 2014 had 1,481 fires burning 369,168 hectares.

The current 10-year average, from 2005 to 2014, is 1,756 fires per year.

According to the provincial government's River Forecast Centre, the South Coast region of the province is currently designated "Drought Level 2 — dry" as many rivers in the region are flowing below their normal levels.

There are generally two major types of rivers in the South Coast, explained David Campbell, head of the River Forecast Centre: those fed by higher elevation, mountainous terrain (generally including some component of glaciers), such as the Cheakamus, Squamish, Lillooet and other rivers throughout the corridor; and lower-elevation rivers with more limited influence from snow or glacier melt, such as the rivers along the Sunshine Coast.

"The lower elevation rivers tend to have higher seasonal risk of low flows, as they rely heavily upon summer rainfall to maintain healthy streamflow," Campbell said in an email.

"With cooler weather and some precipitation over the past two months, these rivers are currently in reasonable shape, with flows being near-normal for this time of year."

Rivers at higher-elevation terrain have more buffering capacity thanks to snow and glacier melt, but in the South Coast region such rivers are flowing slightly below their normal levels — at about 70-to-90-per-cent normal, Campbell said.

"If dry and hot weather persists through August/September, low flow conditions could be exacerbated, particularly in the lower elevation rivers in the Sunshine Coast," he added.

In Whistler, water use has been tracking below 2015 levels — and below the municipal 2020 target — since about the end of May.

Level Two sprinkling restrictions are in effect for all commercial and residential properties until September 30.

Sprinkling is permitted from 4 to 9 a.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays (for even-numbered addresses) and Wednesdays (odd-numbered and no civic addresses).

Garden hoses are not to be used to wash sidewalks, driveways, roofs or other outdoor surfaces, but can be used to wash vehicles if they are equipped with a shut-off device that is spring-loaded and operated by hand pressure.


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