The 2003 fire season was one of the most catastrophic in British Columbia's recorded history. Due to an extended drought in the southern half of the province, forest firefighters faced conditions never seen before in Canada.
Lightning strikes, human carelessness, and arson all contributed to igniting nearly 2,500 fires involving more than 10,000 firefighters and support personnel and burning more than 265,000 hectares (ha) at a cost of $375 million. The extreme volatility of the dry forests, compounded by the province's difficult terrain, created unprecedented fire behaviour and made fire suppression almost impossible. The ongoing fires put extreme pressure on human and equipment resources and the daily outbreak of new fires (218 fires on one day alone) added an even greater burden on suppression teams.
While fire crews often fought uncontrolled fires that travelled at more than seven km/h, and leapt several kilometres over highways, waterways and fire breaks, human safety remained a priority and not a single firefighter was lost on the fireline. In addition, there were no civilian lives lost with the largest evacuation in B.C. history, which involved more than 30,000 people.
Tragically, two air tanker crew members and a helicopter pilot lost their lives and one person was seriously injured.
2003 Notable Fires
Okanagan Mountain Park
The Okanagan Mountain Park fire was the most significant wilderness/urban wildfire event in BC history. The fire's final size was 25,600 hectares. Much of BC was affected by the fire but the communities of Naramata and Kelowna suffered the largest effect when the blaze caused the evacuation of 33,050 people (4,050 of these people were also evacuated for a second time) and 238 homes were lost or damaged. The fire also claimed 12 wooden trestles and damaged two other steel trestles in the historic Myra Canyon.
The McLure fire caused the devastating loss or damage of 72 homes and nine businesses. Due to this fire, 3,800 people were evacuated (880 of these people were also evacuated for a second time) from the small communities of McLure, Barriere and Louis Creek. The fire reached a final size of 26,420 hectares.
Source: BC Wildfire Management Branch