Stories & Features

Don't be that guy during wildfire season

Happy campers outdoors in the wilderness and making coffee on a stove. Senior couple on a camping holiday.
While campfires have been banned across most of B.C. this summer, campers in most areas are permitted to use stoves that have a limited flame. See below for links to specific regulations at Provincial Parks or BC Hydro rec areas.

Wildfires highly devastating, and sometimes preventable

This story was updated on September 5, 2017.

Summer has been smoking in British Columbia this year, and not only in the way of warmer temperatures. Wildfires have been steadily burning across the province since April and dry, windy conditions have provided challenges to responders working to contain the blaze.

As of Sept. 1, there were 136 wildfires burning in B.C., and 21 new fires - three of them human caused - were discovered on August 30. So far this year, there have been 1,176 fires since April, which have burned a whopping total of 1,080,941 hectares, making it the most destructive wildfire season in recorded B.C. history.

The historical record had been 1958, when 856,000 hectares were burnt.  Records have been kept since 1912.

Authorities are estimating that despite fire and smoking bans across the province, approximately 40% of the blazes this year, have been started by people. Common causes include discarded cigarettes, rogue campfires and sparks thrown from outdoor cooking set ups.

The B.C. government announced September 1 that it's extending the state of emergency to September 15. Before you get out and explore B.C.'s backyard this September, make sure you're familiar with the BC Parks, B.C. Wildfire Service and BC Hydro's regulations to help keep you and the province safe.

A rundown on the ban

What: The B.C. Government has issued a widespread fire ban prohibiting open fires across the province and restriction campfires everywhere excluding the Northwest and Prince George. Smoking is also restricted in all public areas of provincial parks and protected areas with the exception of designated front country campsites or private vehicles.

The ban also applies to:

  • Larger fires (Category 2 and Category 3)
  • Burning barrels and burning cages
  • The use of tiki torches, fireworks, firecrackers, sky lanterns, burning barrels or burning cages of any size
  • Binary exploding targets used for firearm practice
  • Burning woody debris in outdoor stoves

Where: The majority of the province is affected by the ban, excluding Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island's west and north coast, known as the Fog Zone. This unique ecosystem experiences wetter conditions and historically has a significantly lower wildfire risk than nearby areas.

When: The ban is ongoing and expected to continue until October 21, 2017

Know before you go

Doing your part can not only prevent forest fires, it can help you avoid some hefty fines. The act of lighting, fueling or using an open fire or campfire carries a $1,150 fine. If your actions result in a wildfire, you could be on the hook for $100,000 to $1 million, and you could potentially face jail time.

Make sure you're taking an appropriate BBQ or stove if you're planning to cook an outdoor meal on your next outing to a park, Crown land or private land. Certain CSA or ULB-approved set ups are permitted under current conditions. Cooking stoves are able to use gas, propane or briquettes, and portable campfire apparatuses can burn briquettes, liquid or gaseous fuel – just make sure the height of the flame is less than 15 centimetres.

We're doing our part at rec areas

BC Hydro recreation areas are a great spot to cast off in your boat for a day on the water, hike through the forests and set up camp in one of our free sites, and they're accessible across B.C.

We're working closely with fire officials to help keep our sites and our neighbours safe from wildfires this summer. Remember to check specific rec area pages for important updates, notably campfire, stove and smoking bans, before you head out to your site of choice this summer.

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know before you head into the great outdoors:

  B.C. parks, Crown lands, private lands and back country BC Hydro recreation areas
Campfires Banned everywhere excluding the Northwest and Prince George Banned
Open fires Banned Banned
Propane, butane BBQs and stoves Permitted if CSA or ULC approved Permitted if CSA or ULC approved at all sites sites except Hayward Lake, Stave Lake and Buntzen Lake
Charcoal BBQs and stoves Banned  Banned all year round
CSA or ULC approved portable campfire or stove apparatus Permitted Banned at Hayward Lake, Stave Lake and Buntzen Lake. Permitted at other BC Hydro recreation area campgrounds only
Smoking Banned Banned at Puntledge River Trails, Buntzen Lake, Hayward Lake and Stave Lake

Stay on top of new developments

Restrictions and bans will continue to change across the province as conditions shift. As of August 11, officials closed all Crown land in the Cariboo's backcountry to mitigate fire risk due to forecast winds and potential lightning strikes. Make sure to check the Government of B.C.'s website for the latest updates before you head out on outdoor adventure for the remainder of the season.

The pattern change actually meant good news for the southern portion of the province socked in by smoke over the past few weeks. This wind system has cleared the haze hanging over much of the coast, along with the subsequent air advisory warnings.

There's still lots of time left to get out and responsibly enjoy parks and campsite across the province. Parks Canada is continuing to offer free admission at national parks for the remainder of the year in celebration of Canada's 150th birthday and you might consider heading over to Vancouver Island's west coast where campfires are still permitted if a night by the fire is calling your name.

Clear skies also make an excellent backdrop for your photos as you get out and explore. Show us how you're powering down at home or heading out to enjoy your summer outdoors and you could win prizes. Upload your photo to Twitter or Instagram with hashtag #PowerDownBC to be automatically entered to win.