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Metro Vancouver's hot, dry conditions create increased risk of fires

Last Updated Jul 6, 2021 at 10:30 am PDT


Leaves have been falling off trees around Metro Vancouver, almost as if it's already fall

Officials are urging people to take extra care amid hot, dry conditions in Metro Vancouver, citing fire risk concerns

Fire danger rating in Metro Vancouver parks is listed as 'high' with potential to move to 'extreme'

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s almost like what you’d see in the fall, but comes months too early. Conditions continue to dry up on the Lower Mainland, where trees are starting to turn brown and lawns are crackling under people’s feet.

The situation increases the fire risk, with many warning locals to take extra care outside.

“Certainly, our natural areas have dried out considerably over the last few weeks. We have a comprehensive fire risk assessment done of our system twice a week, and right now, all of our natural areas are posted as in ‘high’ fire danger,” David Leavers, division manager of Visitor and Operations Services for Metro Vancouver, told NEWS 1130.

“The amount of moisture, the amount of drying, the amount of fuels — we have a five-point system where they would be considered very low, low, moderate, high, or extreme.”

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Leavers says one or two weeks of hot, dry conditions could push the current rating to “extreme.”

When the ratings change, prohibitions in parks change too. That means we could see restrictions brought in, around things like fire pits and barbecues, to address the potential for fires spreading.

“Once we go into extreme, then all campfires are prohibited, including our supervised campgrounds. Briquette barbecues and stoves are prohibited in all public areas, all of our signage is changed in our parks to ‘extreme,’ all portable campfire apparatus, meaning the propane gas ones, there’s restrictions made on those,” he explained.

Teams would also be out to ensure people are following the rules.

The Lower Mainland recently experienced record-high temperatures, pushing into the 40s in some parts.

While things have cooled off since, there’s been no precipitation to address the dry conditions.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart echoes concerns about the tinder dry conditions, saying fires can spread to structures and homes.

“I have seen conditions, including discarded cigarettes that are still smouldering on grassy areas, and I’ve used my water bottle to douse those kinds of realities,” explained Stewart.

Leavers stresses the dangerous irresponsibly disposed cigarettes can pose. However, he notes people generally follow rules around smoking in parks, which is not allowed.

Stewart says he believes most people are aware of the risks right now, particularly in parks and forests. However, he admits there are always some who just aren’t getting the message.

He notes fines for smoking in Coquitlam’s parks go from $150 to $500 in the summer months.

“We want folks to understand, respect, and value the challenges associated with the summer heat and the dry conditions,” he said.

“We really need people to understand: smoking in natural spaces, in parks is a non-starter right now, and we’re out there watching, trying to make sure that we convince people not to do that. If we have to do that with a $500 fine, we’ll do it.”

Butt-out responsibly

In Vancouver, fire crews say they also haven’t seen many spot fires since the heatwave passed through.

“Of course, that’s probably going to escalate as the summer goes on, especially now with the province reopening,” explained Jonathan Gormick, captain of Strategic Health Initiatives with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services. “We’re seeing more people out on the beaches, more people in the parks, more tourists around. When there are more people in the parks, there’s more sources of ignition.”

He says the fire risk in Vancouver remains high, and notes that could increase the longer the region goes without rain.

“All it would take is a tossed cigarette butt,” he said of the risk of fire currently, noting any flames would likely spread “rapidly” through dry brush and grass.

“We do have some high risk areas. The three large parks in the city; Pacific Spirit Park, Stanley Park, and Everett Crowley. But, really, anywhere there is dry, organic matter, we see countless fires both on boulevards and in planters throughout virtually every summer,” he said, noting it’s usually anywhere someone may throw out their cigarettes.

Again, the concern is that these fires could spread to nearby homes and buildings. Given the density of some areas, he says the potential of loss of life or property is considerable.

His advice to people right now: “Use some common sense,” especially if you’re smoking.

“If they’re using gas-powered devices, like pressure washers, compressors, or generators, just be cognizant of where the exhaust is. But, again, smoking is the huge one,” he said, adding people can discard of smoking material in a number of responsible ways, such as by using non-combustible containers or pocket or car ashtrays.