Fires blamed on discarded cigarettes

NANAIMO – More than a dozen fires over weekend were likely caused by human carelessness, says investigator.

Careless discarding of cigarettes attributed to the majority of wildland, landscape and bark mulch fires on the weekend.

Two structures suffered damage, including a house on Howard Avenue where a brush fire burned a fence and melted soffits Friday night and a funeral chapel on Bowen Road where a improperly butted cigarette caught a cedar hedge on fire Saturday and caused minor damage to the building’s exterior.

Capt. Ennis Mond, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer, said all fires over the weekend were likely caused by smoking, including a brush fire that consumed about one hectare of land near Mary Ellen Drive and signalled the start of the blazes.

The largest fires, including one near Jingle Pot Road that tied up units from four fire stations and burned a portion of Hawthorne Park Saturday, grew to about one hectare in size each before they were brought under control. Cappy Yates Park at Fitzwilliam and Wallace streets Friday and a brushy area on Skinner Street Sunday also burned due to human carelessness. Firefighters also had to snuff out a campfire lit by homeless people living in the bush near Caledonia Park.

A half-hectare-sized fire behind student housing at Vancouver Island University at about 2 a.m. Monday was also likely sparked by a cigarette.

“Practically all of them have been human-caused,” Mond said.

Assistant fire chief Greg Norman had to grab a fire extinguisher to snuff out a landscape fire while picking up sandwiches from the Subway restaurant on Bowen Road Saturday.

“He was out getting nourishment for the crews on the Jingle Pot fire and lo and behold the plants are on fire,” Mond said.

Norman knocked the fire down with an extinguisher until a fire crew responded to fully extinguish it.

Mond said in many cases it’s obvious smokers aren’t even bothering to try and extinguish cigarettes and are just tossing lit smokes on the ground. Near areas where wildland fires have started, he has found numerous cigarette butts on the ground.

Dozens of firefighters from North Oyster, North Cedar and Cranberry volunteer fire departments continue to work on a  wildfire in North Oyster that broke out Thursday, possibly due to a spark from farm equipment, that consumed more than 10 hectares of land and required drops of fire retardant from air tankers to bring under control.