Sechelt fire Chief Bill Higgs is warning smokers to dispose of their butts appropriately after a mid-day fire outside a storage facility on Wharf Avenue damaged the contents of three units on Monday.
Higgs said the fire started after someone discarded a cigarette butt under a cedar tree that was planted directly behind one of the storage units along the edge of the Sechelt Legion’s parking lot.
“There were a bunch of butts around there and one likely smouldered overnight and started the grass on fire and the cedar tree and all the combustibles around there,” Higgs said.
He said smoking laws, which came into effect years ago prohibiting people from smoking inside establishments, have contributed to the issue. Since the change, his department has been responding to two or three such fires each year.
“Stores, businesses or halls need to provide a place for people to put their butts because what people do is they don’t want to litter and stick them on the ground so they’ll flick their cigarette into what they think is dirt underneath these trees and shrubbery and that type of thing,” Higgs said. “It will sit there and smoulder and smoulder and the next morning when it dries out and a little breeze comes up, away it goes. Especially these little hedging cedar trees. They are just so combustible.”
Higgs said the same is true for cigarette butts discarded in planters. Often the planters are filled with wood chips underneath, creating the perfect kindling for a fire.
After Monday’s fire was knocked down, firefighters entered eight storage units to check for fire, heat or smoke damage. They also took off the panelling inside the unit directly behind the burnt tree to make sure no fire had made its way inside.
“There was some smoke damage to about three of the units and the one unit where the fire was directly on the outside there was a little bit of heat damage and more significant smoke damage,” Higgs said. “The whole thing was just permeated with smoke.”
He credits a citizen who saw the fire, called it in and attempted to combat it with a fire extinguisher for ensuring the damage wasn’t greater.
“Being in the middle of the day, it gets noticed of course, but at night it could have been more significant,” Higgs said.