Wildfire season could be off to an early start this year in Nanaimo.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue has already been dealing with small brush and bark mulch fires around the city and on Thursday night, North Cedar Fire Department battled a small but stubborn fire on the island in Quennell Lake that took several hours to completely snuff out.
Percy Tipping, North Cedar Fire Department chief, said the cause of the fire isn’t certain, but is suspected to be the result of a campfire on the weekend that was put out, but was fanned back to life by several days of wind and high temperatures.
“Essentially, as for size, I think it was probably 20, 30 feet by 50 to 60 feet, but it got deep-seated into the root systems of some of the trees there,” Tipping said. “So it took us a while to get that finished up there. I think we were there four hours.”
The Quennell Lake fire was one of several, including a half-hectare grass fire on Raines Road, that his department had to knock down in recent days.
“We’re in the higher fire rating right now, so there’s no open burning in our district, other than campfires,” Tipping said.
Coastal Fire Centre hasn’t brought in fire restrictions for the year, but is considering it, possibly as early as Monday, May 13, said Dorthe Jakobsen, fire information officer.
Record heat combined with wind have created dry conditions, but the ground is also dry this year because of a cold winter that brought snow but not spring rains that would normally help soak snowmelt into the earth.
“So we’ve had kind of a dry late winter and spring. We haven’t had the precipitation we normally would,” Jakobsen said. “We’re getting some pretty warm temperatures and things are drying out. It’s getting pretty dry out there and the fire danger rating is increasing as we speak, so we will be looking a prohibitions, probably next week.”
Coastal Fire Centre’s fire season starts April 1 and, to date, 2019 has seen double the five-year average for wildfires and is already rivalling 2018 and 2017, which were B.C.’s two worst fire seasons.
“Since April 1 we’ve had 21 fires, all human-caused, and the five-year-average at this time is 10,” she said.
Jakobsen said it’s still too early to know if the 2019 fire season is early, but the province has firefighting crews ready to respond.
“If we get the June rains then we could be OK,” she said.
Geoff Whiting, Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief, said Nanaimo’s usual fire restrictions are in place and prohibit backyard burning and smoking and campfires in parks. Cooking fires will be banned when Coastal Fire Centre brings in the seasonal campfire ban.
“We’re at quite a high [fire danger] rating already, though,” Whiting said. “We’re at a four out of five rating, which is pretty early in the season to be at that and that’s set by coastal fire … You know, it’s usually June or the end of June. We can often go through May at a three so it’s a month early, anyway.”
Hot weather has already contributed to landscaping bark mulch and small brush fires around Nanaimo, mostly started by discarded cigarettes. Bark mulch fires can smoulder unnoticed for hours, even days, Whiting said, and can easily flare up to spark structure fires.
“We’re asking people to be very safe, of course, to do really good open fire best practices,” Jakobsen said. “Monitoring, fully extinguish, make sure everything’s cold, make sure you’re taking weather conditions into account and don’t burn if you don’t have to.”