July 31, 2009 / 8:00 PM / 8 years ago

Wildfire risk extreme on Canada's Pacific Coast

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Residents on Canada’s Pacific Coast were warned on Friday that the hot, dry summer has left the region facing the greatest wildfire threat “in memory.”

The forest fire risk was rated as high or extreme in about 85 percent of British Columbia, a province that is about 1-1/2 times the size of Texas, which has already had more than 1,800 mostly small fires this year, Premier Gordon Campbell said.

“Our province is facing the highest levels of wildfire risk in memory ... the forests across the province are probably in the driest conditions that any of us can recall,” Campbell told reporters.

Officials are worried because August is often the worst month for wildfires. In addition to being unusually dry in June and July, temperatures in some areas -- including Vancouver -- have broken time heat records in recent days.

Extra fire-fighting crews have been called in from across Canada and from Australia to back up the 2,500 British Columbia personnel already on duty. Fighting the blazes is costing up to C$3 million ($2.8 million) a day, Campbell said.

There were 61 “fires of note”, or larger than 10 hectares (25 acres), burning in British Columbia on Friday, including one large blaze that had 3,000 people near Lillooet on evacuation alert, according to the B.C. Forest Service.

Crews were trying to extinguish a small fire that was sparked by a lightening strike on Thursday near the ski resort of Whistler, which will host some of the competitions during the 2010 Winter Olympics. None of the venues was considered threatened by the blaze.

Officials warned people to stay out of back-country wilderness areas of the province because of the risk they might accidentally start a blaze or could become trapped if a fire broke out near them.

No areas have been ordered closed yet to logging or industrial activity, but forestry firms usually restrict activities that might spark fires when the risk level is raised to high or extreme.

The amount of logging in the province has already been reduced because of the weak housing construction markets.

The fire danger was also considered high across nearly all of Washington state, to the south of British Columbia, according to state officials.

Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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