Firefighters in Nanaimo found themselves suddenly busy when two grass fires ignited virtually simultaneously and about 300 metres apart Friday.
The fires, two of seven accidental and suspicious fires since Thursday, happened at about 10:20 a.m. on the 2900 block of Hammond Bay Road, one near the Departure Bay Road intersection, and both started in grass along the north side of the road.
Both fires started in dry grass on steep slopes and had the potential to damage nearby homes, but passersby, including a brush mower operator with a water pump can, and homeowners worked to control the flames until firefighters could arrive. The mower was not operating at the time and was not considered a factor in the fires, according to fire crews on scene.
Hammond Bay Road was closed to traffic until the larger of the two blazes could be completely snuffed out and fire hoses and other equipment cleared from the road.
Fire crews responded to a third fire on Nottingham Drive within 15 minutes of the Hammond Bay Road fires.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue dealing with another fire on Chestnut St. that started moments after two grass fires started on Hammond Bay Rd. Fire triggered alarms in nearby commercial building and scorched trees in wooded area. No injuries reported.#Nanaimo #fire @NanaimoBulletin pic.twitter.com/B5e01pGWOr
— Chris Bush (@ChrisBushphotog) July 26, 2019
Geoff Whiting, Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief of operations, said the Nottingham fire was on an access trail and investigators are considering that one suspicious.
“It’s on an access trail that leads into the Linley Valley and that one looks like it may be suspicious … the two on Hammond Bay, we can’t determine that they’re suspicious,” Whiting said. “They could have been caused by … a hot part of a vehicle.”
Lots of cigarette butts were also found alongside Hammond Bay Road, but it’s hard to determine if any were recently discarded, he said.
Shortly before 11 a.m. a fourth fire broke out in a wooded area behind a commercial building on the end of Chestnut Street. That fire scorched fir and arbutus trees, but was quickly knocked down by fire crews. Fire alarms in the commercial building, which faces the 1600 block of Terminal Avenue, were also set off and the building evacuated when fire crews, tackling the brush fire, hooked up to a fire hydrant, which caused water pressure to drop in the building’s automatic sprinkler system.
Whiting said that fire was caused by someone smoking, as was a fire on Pine Street Thursday.
“There’s another one on Departure Bay yesterday too that is suspicious,” Whiting said. “It was, kind of, in a front yard at the base of a tree on the 2200 block of Departure Bay Road.”
As for the fires that appear to be due to smoking or accidental, Whiting said people need to be extra cautious given the dry conditions.
“Even though it’s been unseasonably cool for July, things are still dry,” he said. “People have to be careful with their cigarettes.”
Whiting is also urging people who spot suspicious activity to call the RCMP immediately, as well as Nanaimo Fire Rescue.
“These suspicious ones, it can be hard to catch people if they’re not apprehended right away,” he said.