A helicopter drops water on a fire in North Oyster south of Nanaimo last week. The fire was the first of a series of grass fires ignited in the dry conditions.

A helicopter drops water on a fire in North Oyster south of Nanaimo last week. The fire was the first of a series of grass fires ignited in the dry conditions.

Nanaimo officials ask the public to be fire smart

NANAIMO – Mayor, fire chief make plea for residents and visitors to be more careful in dry conditions.

Nanaimo firefighters have never seen wildfires spread so quickly.

Over the weekend firefighters battled 13 blazes, all of which were caused by careless smoking.

Monday afternoon Nanaimo Fire Rescue Chief Craig Richardson and Mayor Bill McKay made a plea to the public, especially smokers, to be extremely careful with anything that could spark a wildfire.

Richardson said this is the worst fire season with the most rapidly spreading fires he has seen on the Island so far.

“Some of the fire behaviour we’re seeing this year is extreme,” Richardson said. “We’ve never seen fires grow as rapidly as they are this year and we’re concerned they’ll spread to structures.”

Two fires, driven by high winds, caused minor damage to a home and a business on the weekend.

Richardson said such extreme fire conditions will likely continue until the end of the summer.

“There’s no rain in the foreseeable forecast and no precipitation predictions until late October and perhaps even until November,” Richardson said.

A complete burning ban is in place and smokers must be extremely careful about butting out cigarettes.

Only natural gas, propane and briquette barbecues are permitted on private residences. Propane camp fires and other open flame devices are strictly prohibited.

In spite of a complete burning ban, firefighters had to put out six campfires over the weekend.

McKay recommends drivers carry fire extinguishers in their cars and smokers should carry a bottle half filled with water to drop cigarette butts in for later disposal.

“The number one reason for fires right now are cigarettes,” McKay said.

But even lawn movers can throw sparks, so caution is urged when using any outdoor garden, sport or farming equipment that could potentially start a fire given the extremely dry conditions.

“Even a rock in a lawnmower is enough to cause a spark,” Richardson said.

All access to private forestry lands was closed last week, but the city has not considered closing municipal parks to the public. However, the city is considering stopping all watering to all municipal facilities and could even close water parks before the summer is out.

Richardson said there have been numerous calls to the fire department about smoke in the air. He said early notification is critical, but call when there a real indication of a fire, such as a column of smoke.

Expect to see more smokey mornings throughout the summer as winds carry smoke from wildfires happening throughout the province and winds carry smoke to the B.C. coast.