VANCOUVER Forecasted lightning in several regions of B.C. and a severe thunderstorm watch for much of the province has put emergency officials on the alert for an increase in new forest fires.Environment Canada issued a severe thunderstorm watch Monday covering an area extending from the Okanagan to as far north as Prince George, where lightening was expected until at least Tuesday.That forecast, combined by recent hot weather throughout the province, had crews preparing to mobilize for new fires, said information officer Erin Catherall.With the forecast of lightning, crews are getting prepared for an increase in fire starts, said Catherall.Between Sunday and Monday, there were 52 new fires caused by lightening in the province, though most covered an area of less than one hectare.The 2012 forest fire season has so far been below average when it comes to the number of fires reported, and almost none have posed a serious threat to people or their homes.As of Monday, the province saw nearly 1,100 fires since April 1, far below the 10-year average of roughly 1,600 by this time, said Catherall. Last year, considered one of the slowest seasons on record, there were fewer than 500 fires on the books by mid-August.Few fires this year have come close to people or their homes. A fire near Vernon several weeks ago came within six kilometres of the communitys downtown, said Catherall, but crews have since contained the blaze and largely extinguished it.Still, the current fire rating in the province is either high or, in some areas, extreme.A campfire ban was put in place for the Kamloops fire district, where officials said they were pleased to see high compliance among the public.Catherall noted August is among the hottest months of the year in B.C., though the fire season can extend much later.Typically, August is one of the warmer months of the season and weather is a huge contributor to the risk of wildfire starts, she said.We have been having warm weather over the last while, so that has increased our fire danger rating, but each fire season is different. We have seen fire seasons extend as far as the end of October, early November, so were not necessarily out of the woods yet.
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