As the weather starts to heat up and the long weekend approaches, fire officials are reminding people to be careful with campfires and cigarette butts.
Marg Drysdale, Coastal Fire Centre spokeswoman, said the forests are drying out rapidly and the risk of wildfires increases the drier it gets – the region has gone from a low to a moderate fire danger rating over the past couple weeks.
“We’ve had a long, cool spring and it turned around very quickly,” she said. “What they anticipate in the next little while is the temperatures are going to cool slightly, but we won’t see any precipitation.”
As of noon Friday (May 18), Category 2 open fires and fireworks are prohibited across the Coastal Fire Centre to help prevent human-caused wildfires. The ban is expected to be in place until Sept. 15.
The ban applies to: open fires less than two metres in height and three metres in width; burn barrels; fireworks; and stubble or grass fires over an area less than 2,000 square metres.
Category 3 open burning, used for resource management reasons, is still permitted, but a burn registration number must first be obtained by calling 1-888-797-1717.
Drysdale said because last year was one of the region’s slowest fire seasons, officials are worried that people may become complacent and not be as cautious as they should be. Last weekend, there were four human-caused fires throughout the Coastal Fire Centre, although none of them were in the Nanaimo area.
“They’re small fires, but because things are drying rapidly, there is the potential that if something lights it will spread quickly,” she said. “We just want people to be aware of what they’re doing when they’re doing it.”
Most of it is common sense, such as not tossing cigarette butts out the car window, lighting campfires away from structures and dry materials, and thinking about whether the wind will lift embers into surrounding areas before lighting a campfire, said Drysdale.
People can also check out the FireSmart Manual at www.bcwildfire.ca to learn about how to create a defensible space around their homes.
The main problem for city firefighters is cigarette butts, said Doug Bell, chief fire investigator with Nanaimo Fire Rescue.
“Already we’re starting to have bark mulch fires,” he said. “Keep your butts in your car. It doesn’t take much for bark mulch to dry out. The surface burns and then it gets into a tree or shrub, which lights the house on fire.”
Backyard burning is banned in Nanaimo, including campfires, which are only permitted at campgrounds, and the only exception is cooking fires less than 24 inches in diameter, which must use only clean, dry wood and be put out after two hours.
“There is a ban on burning and it can come with a $200 fine,” said Bell.