FORT ST. JOHN -- Fire bans will come into effect next week in northeast and central B.C., as officials warn of an early start to what could be a “very difficult” wildfire season ahead.

The Category 2 and 3 open fire bans cover the Prince George and Cariboo fire centres, and both start at noon on Thursday, March 28.

The BC Wildfire Service says it considers drought conditions, current and forecasted weather, available firefighting resources and the buildup index when deciding to implement fire bans.

In the Prince George Centre, “this prohibition is being implemented to help prevent human-caused wildfires and protect public safety due to the high grass fire hazard, persistent drought conditions and increased incidence of human-caused wildfires associated with Category 2 and Category 3 open burning,” the agency writes.

The bulletin for the Cariboo centre also cites an unseasonably warm and dry fall and winter that led to high drought conditions as the reason for the relatively early fire ban.

The Prince George Fire Centre covers the Stuart Nechako, Mackenzie, Peace, Fort Nelson and Prince George “forest districts.

The bans do not prohibit campfires that are smaller than half a metre high and half a metre wide, or cooking stoves that use gas, propane or briquettes, BCWS notes.

What won’t be allowed is burning materials in piles larger than two-by-three metres or burning grass in an area larger than 0.2 hectares.

In the Prince George Fire Centre, fireworks, sky lanterns, burn barrels and binary exploding targets will also be prohibited, while in the Cariboo region fireworks and sky lanterns will be banned.

Anyone who violates a fire ban can be ticketed $1,150 and may be required to pay an “administrative penalty” of up to $10,000. If convicted in court, a fine up to $100,000 and/or one year in jail is possible.

BCWS lists 87 active wildfires in the province, the majority of which are located in the Prince George Fire Centre and are underground holdover fires from last year’s record-breaking wildfire season.

On Monday, officials urged British Columbians to prepare evacuation plans, saying that a forecasted warmer and drier spring than usual and low snowpack could spell trouble for the season ahead.