Summer Events In B.C. Already Cancelled Or Rescheduled Amid Drought, Wildfire Concerns | CBC News

British Columbia

Sparse snowpack and ongoing drought are starting to impact summer events across the province, with some organizers making changes to scheduling or cancelling their events outright.

Snow levels currently below normal, according to B.C. River Forecast Centre, raising risk of wildfireShaurya K Kshatri · CBC News

· Posted: Feb 10, 2024 11:00 AM EST | Last Updated: 7 hours ago

As drought conditions raise wildfire concerns, some event organizers in the province are preparing ahead by cancelling or rescheduling their events. (Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock)Sparse snowpack and ongoing drought are starting to impact summer events across the province, with some organizers making changes to scheduling or cancelling their events outright.

Earlier this week, the Fort St. John International Air Show Society announced the cancellation of its much-anticipated August air show, citing concerns over wildfire risk amid the ongoing drought in the Peace Region.

The Kamloopa Powwow Society has also rescheduled its annual three-day celebration, from August to June 28-30, to avoid extreme heat and potential wildfire smoke. 

In a similar vein, the Salmon Arm Folk Music Society is bumping up the dates for its annual Roots and Blues Music Festival, from August to July 26-28. 

For Sandi Miller, producer of the Fort St. John International Air Show, it was a tough call to make.

“It’s definitely a very difficult decision for our group. We spent two years working on the show,” she said in an interview with CBC’s Daybreak North.

Daybreak North6:48Wildfire concern grounds airshow

Fort St John organizers disappointed, but say it’s the right thing to do.

The last air show in the city was in 2022 following a five-year hiatus. Weather concerns, the pandemic and runway upgrades had shuttered the event in the years before. 

This time, it’s the double-whammy impact of inadequate resources and the risk of wildfire, Miller said.

“Resources are harder to find, mainly people, volunteers and the wildfire situation is expected to be not good at all this year.… We’ve had virtually no snow,” she said.

WATCH | What the low snowpack levels mean for B.C.: 

Snowpack levels across B.C. are below normal for this time of year. Here’s what that meansDarius Mahdavi, CBC News’ climate and science specialist, tells BC Today host Dan Burritt that snowpack levels in B.C. remain low despite the cold January weather — and explains the impact it’s expected to have on drought conditions.

“When the wildfire season is in full swing, there’s a lot of air traffic at our airport. So a lot of helicopters, a lot of airplanes, water bombers to smoke jumpers [will be] going in and out of our airports. So [having an airshow] would be interfering with that.”

A B.C. River Forecast Centre report released this Thursday revealed snow levels across the province are 39 per cent below normal, heightening concerns about wildfire risks amid worsening drought conditions across the province.

Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said unless there is significant improvement in snowpack levels in the coming months, B.C. may face a repeat of the devastating wildfires experienced in 2023.

“We really need to see very strong, aggressive, proactive drought planning from the province. All of these regions where water stress is likely to occur should have water sustainability plans in place,” he told CBC News.

Precautionary measuresOrganizers of other summer events are also taking precautionary measures.

Melissa Mathias, treasurer and sponsorship co-ordinator for the Kamloopa Powwow Society, said this is the first time the event will be held outside of August. 

The Kamloopa Powwow is one of Western Canada’s largest gatherings celebrating the heritage of the province’s Secwepemc people.

The Kamloopa Powwow is pictured in 2013. This year’s event is moving from August to June, in an effort to avoid extreme heat and potential risks of wildfire, organizers say. (Hello B.C.)”Extreme heat waves have been occurring in August and especially with the dancers wearing regalia, [there are] safety concerns around heat stroke as well,” she wrote in an email to CBC.

Mathias added it’s better to err on the side of caution than risk people’s well-being.

“Last year the devastation with our neighbouring First Nations in Chase, Squilax, having fires rip through their community and people lost their homes,” she said. 

“This was in 2023, in 2003 there were fires in every direction … the attendance [at the powwow] was extremely low and it was hard to make enough revenue for operations.”

WATCH | Sk hills suggest visitors take a hike to find powder amid low snow levels: 

B.C. ski hills get creative to stay open amid low snow levelsExtremely low snow levels are forcing ski hills in B.C. to get creative. New data shows local mountains have 60 per cent less snow than normal. David Ball has more on some ski resorts’ efforts to serve visitors and snow sports enthusiasts.

Organizers with the Salmon Arm Folk Music Society say last year’s wildfire caused significant disruption to the Roots and Blues Music Festival, as it had to be cancelled after the first night of performances.

“While the city of Salmon Arm was not directly on evacuation order, air quality had plummeted,… province-wide travel restrictions were put in place. It simply was not feasible or safe for us to continue with our event,” said Althea Mongerson, the society’s marketing co-ordinator. 

The Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival is seen in 2018. The Salmon Arm Folk Music Society, which oversees the festival, has decided to move the event to an earlier date, following the challenges caused by the wildfires last summer. (Salmon Arm Folk Music Society)”Our society then had to undertake the large process of ticket refunds and donations, which as you can imagine has had a financial impact.”

She said the organizing team is taking extra precautions this year, increasing shade, as well as the number of water stations and rest areas across the festival grounds.

With files from Daybreak North

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