BC Wildfire Service looks back at tragic, historic 2023 fire season

Over 7 million acres burned, hundreds of homes destroyed, and tens of thousands of people forced to evacuate. British Columbia’s 2023 season was the most destructive in recorded history. The fires stressed local economies, infrastructure, and local ecology, but also had an unquantifiable impact on the province’s firefighting force, partly caused by the deaths of six wildland firefighters.

“The season has been emotionally challenging and will always be remembered for the tragic loss of six members of B.C.’s wildland firefighting community,” the BC Wildfire Service recently told WildfireToday. “These individuals exhibited remarkable courage, dedication, and selflessness, and their memory will continue to be honoured. Thank you, Devyn Gale, Zak Muise, Kenneth Patrick, Jaxon Billyboy, Blain Sonnenberg, and Damian Dyson for serving and protecting the lands and people of British Columbia.”

BC Wildfire Service
BC Wildfire Service

The Service said it’s difficult to zero in on one wildfire as the season’s “most memorable” because of the historic nature of the season. The Service, instead, singled out two instances: the lightning-caused Donnie Creek Fire, and the wildfires that burned between August 15 and 18.

The Donnie Creek Fire was discovered on May 12 near Fort Nelson and became B.C.’s largest fire in recorded history after burning 1.5 million acres. The fire exhibited aggressive growth, taking an 18-mile run just five days after receiving 1.6 inches of rain. The fire also resulted in the Service’s second death of  2023 when 25-year-old Zak Muise was killed after his utility terrain vehicle rolled over a sharp drop in a gravel road while responding to the fire.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Yet another Canadian firefighter dies … on the largest fire in British Columbia’s history

Extreme heat and strong winds caused numerous wildfires to exhibit intense fire behavior between August 15 and 18, according to the Service’s season summary page. More than 40 heat records were set during the period, and a following cold front brought strong gusting winds of 25 to 37 mph. Numerous wildfires spread exponentially during the extreme weather patterns, including:

        • The Kookipi Creek Fire near Boston Bar
        • The Downton Lake Fire near Gold Bridge
        • The Casper Creek Fire near Shalalth
        • The Crater Creek Fire near Keremeos
        • The McDougall Creek Fire adjacent to West Kelowna
        • The Bush Creek East and Lower East Adams Lake fires in the Shuswap merged as a result of the extreme weather
Kookipi Creek Fire
The Kookipi Creek Fire 16 kilometers northwest of Boston Bar and 7 kilometers east of Nahatlatch Lake. Elevated winds, following hot, dry conditions have resulted in extreme fire behaviour and further growth to north and east past the Nahatlatch and Fraser rivers. The fire crossed Highway 1, closing the highway in both directions. It is approximately 2000 hectares in size and is a highly vigorous surface and crown fire.

As the 2024 season kicks off, the Service has a single message to share with BC residents: prevention measures must be stepped up.

“The challenge of longer and more intense wildfire seasons in British Columbia cannot be met by one agency, organization, government, or individual acting alone,” the Service said. “This immense challenge requires a whole-of-society approach in which all people, governments, organizations, and others do their part in preventing and preparing for wildfires.”

Residents can take concrete actions to make their homes and community more resilient to wildfire threats, the Service said. Those actions include FireSmarting homes, preparing for potential evacuations, using fire safely on the landscape, and reporting any wildfires or dangerous activity that could cause wildfires.

The Service has undertaken more than 30 cultural and prescribed fire projects this spring and has treated 104,000 acres since 2018 to reduce fuels near communities and other values.