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Wildfires and drought remain major issues of concern across the province, and the fire-fighting bill is now $27 million over the $60 million government budget, with the fire danger rating still high to extreme.

The new numbers for the fiscal year beginning April 1 — 885 active fires with a burn area of more than 215,000 hectares.

“Most are lightning caused… which is unusual for this time of year,” said Kevin Skrepnek with the BC Wildfire Management Branch.

“We don’t typically see that much lightning activity until later in the summer.”

About 1,400 firefighters are now battling the fires, and one has already paid the ultimate price for what his family calls “public carelessness.”

60-year-old John Phare of Roberts Creek died Sunday after he was struck by a tree fighting a Sunshine coast area, human-caused fire near Sechelt.

At last post, the eight-zone-Prince George Centre had five fires of note, with the one about 115 kilometers northeast of Fort Nelson — now estimated at 4,150 hectares — still the one of most interest.

That’s because the Petitot River Fire is an “interface” fire, and had been the subject of an evacuation order for a 15-person oil and gas facility before it was downgraded Sunday to an evacuation alert.

It’s not the biggest fire in that zone, but as Fire Information Officer Jill Kelsh has confirmed, even though the Wadin Creek blaze — which is about 300 kilometres west-northwest of Fort Nelson — covers 38 thousand hectares, it falls into the modified response category.

“We have approximately 80,000 hectares burning right now if you look at all the fires combined in the Fort Nelson area,” Kelsh said.

“We have a lot of modified response, luckily there’s a lot of uninhabited area.”

Meantime, in this area, we could again be only a couple a weeks away from major crop concern, and we talked Kelly Kassian, of Richardson Pioneer, about that, and began with the forage crop situation.

“Good weather for hay that’s for sure,” Kassian said.

“We had a little bit of insect problem earlier when the canola was just coming out of the ground, but we got that under control.

“The crops are looking pretty good right now, but we’re going to need a rain pretty quick. This warm weather is hard on the canola when it’s flowering like it is,” Kassian said.

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