British Columbia Wildfires Down From Last Year

VICTORIA (CP) -- Fire officials are hitting back hard against a new wildfire that has broken out on Vancouver Island near Nanaimo.

The fire near Cumberland, about 80 kilometres northwest of Nanaimo, began overnight Tuesday. By Wednesday, it was less than a square kilometre in size, but information officer Starr Munroe said it's on the move.

Smoke can been from several kilometres away, she said.

Martin Mars water bombers, biggest in the world, were called in to assist and 20 firefighters, two helicopters and an air tanker were also on scene.

But despite new forest fires, the number of fires burning in British Columbia is falling dramatically behind the figure for this time last year.

As of Wednesday, there were 228 fires burning in the province, compared with the 842 blazing at this point a year ago.

In June, the number of fires burning this year far exceeded the numbers from last year. But last year's fire season exploded with a memorable vengeance last August, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes in the Okanagan and Interior regions.

Radha Fisher, a fire information officer said the bad news for the next 10 days is that the weather once again is expected to get hot and dry.

``We did receive some rain late last week, which kept the fire situation stable and decreased it for a few days,'' Fisher said.

``We are seeing the hot, dry weather change the fire behaviour to where we're seeing some more active fires.''

Meanwhile, forestry officials planned to start burning about 29 square kilometres of forest in Mount Robson park in eastern British Columbia on Wednesday.

It's hoped the prescribed burn will reduce the risk of future wildfires by reducing the amount of dead wood and dry underbrush in the park.

In the fall, officials will also begin removing older stands of lodgepole pine to counter the pine beetle infestation that's spreading east in the park, fire officials said.

In northern British Columbia, workers at oil and gas camps in the Fort Nelson area remain on evacuation alert due to the Kotcho Lake blaze.

The fire was started by lightning on July 17 and now is estimated to be 35 square kilometres in size.

No private residences or recreational properties are in the area and it's unclear how many workers are affected by the evacuation alert.