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Wildfire terms to know for Wildfire Season

Summer has come to be known as ‘Wildfire Season” in British Columbia, and the province is already urging British Columbians to prepare for it.

As we head into the fire season, there’s plenty of terminology thrown around such as Evacuation Alerts, Fire Prohibitions,  and Fire Danger Rating.

In an interview with Vista Radio, Communications Specialist with the BC Wildfire Service, Sharon Nickel, took the time to explain some of the terms associated with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS).

What is the difference between Evacuation Alerts and Evacuation Orders?

File Photo – Evacuation order & alert maps for the Tweedsmuir Complex fires – August 30th, 2018 | Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN)

“Evacuation Alerts notify people that there is a wildfire present, and they should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, so the fire at that time isn’t posing an imminent risk, but it has the potential to do so. Evacuation Orders are put into place when the wildfire presents a risk in the very near future, or is posing a risk at that time. Those will be on a timeline, to move people out of the at-risk perimeter, and when an order is released, residents should evacuate immediately.”

How are Alerts and Orders implemented and enforced?

“It’s important to note, the BCWS advises on those areas that may be impacted by wildfires for considerations as part of the alert or order, but local municipalities, regional districts, and Indigenous and First Nation communities are the ones responsible for the implementation of evacuation alerts and orders, as well as the enforcement. The enforcement may also be carried out by the RCMP.”

What is a Wildfire of Note?

“Wildfires of Note are wildfires that may be highly visible, or that may pose a threat to public safety, so that can include residential areas or human infrastructure, such as highways, or hydro poles, that sort of thing. Some of the fires that residents may remember from last year’s season as fires of note are the Cutoff Creek Fire, or the Bucking Horse Fire that was along Highway 97, north of the Alaska Highway Corridor Fire.

What are Fire Bans and Prohibitions? 

The BCWS uses what we call the buildup index, and when that particular index reaches predetermined points, the Wildfire Service, will implement the banner prohibition. So essentially, these are prohibited activities, complete bans on different activities. They may encompass Category 2 or Category 3, and Campfires.

Category 3 Fires:

  • Multiple fires larger than two metres-high, and three metres-wide
  • Windrows or grass over an area larger than 0.2 hectares
  • When these fires are allowed, they do require a registration number, and are tracked through the open fire tracking system

Category 2 Fires:

  • Open fires, excluding campfires, that burn piled material no larger than two metres high by three metres-wide
  • Grass fires in an area no larger than 0.2 hectares
  • Burn barrels are also banned when Category 2 fires are prohibited


  • Fires no larger than 0.5 metres-high by 0.5 metres wide, used for recreational purpose, or by an Indigenous or First Nations Community for ceremonial purposes.

How and when are bans and prohibitions implemented, and how are they enforced?

The BCWS does make the decision for when there are bans and prohibitions. However, in the event where the BC Wildfire Service has not implemented a Campfire Ban, a Regional District does have it within their bylaws to implement a campfire ban.

The BCWS does rely quite a bit on public reporting, so we do have our reporting smoke, wildfire, and unattended campfire line. That’s 1-800-663-5555, or *5555 on your mobile device. When we receive reports of smoke or fire, those are investigated. The Campfire Bans and Prohibitions, under the Wildfire Act, we are able to enforce, people who are in contravention of those bans may be fined up to $1,100.

What are Area Restrictions, and how are they enforced?

“Area Restrictions are different from evacuation alerts and orders. They may encompass some of the same area, but these particular restrictions are implemented by the BCWS.”

“Those are done so to restrict public access to areas where there is ongoing fire suppression activity. These particular restrictions are put in place for public safety because fire may reduce access or egress routes, but having those restrictions in place reduces the requirement for emergency evacuation for public that may be blocked in or impacted by wildfire, and so that we enforce those through the wildfire act as well.”

What is the Fire Danger Rating System, and how is Fire Danger Rating determined?

Fire Danger Rating sign in Prince George (Photo by staff)

“Residents are probably really familiar with the fire danger rating signs that they see around town and along fire corridors. It is one of the tools the Wildfire Service uses, in conjunction with looking at fire weather indices, looking at relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, fine-fuel moisture codes, dust moisture codes, drought codes, and the buildup index and the fire weather index. So this combination of tools aids us in wildfire management decisions, including prevention.”“The Fire Danger Rating System looks at current and forecasted weather conditions, including ground level moisture, humidity and precipitation, and available forest fuels.”

“For quick, public consumption, the fire danger rating kind of speaks to what is currently happening with forest fuels, how quickly they may combust, how volatile they might be, and looking at the present and forecasted weather to see if that would fuel or slow down the spread of fire.”

Nickel added there is more information on the BC Wildfire Service’s app, the BC Wildfire Service Website, their Facebook and Twitter pages, and the FireSmart Website.

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