Logging company employee dies working at Nanaimo Lakes wildfire

Vancouver Island

A logging company employee has died while working at a wildfire in the Nanaimo Lakes area.

The province’s workplace safety authority confirmed a TimberWest employee was found dead in a vehicle south of Nanaimo about 10 p.m. on Monday.

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“The worker was not a firefighter. Early information indicates the worker was making a delivery to forest wildfire fighters,” said Trish Knight Chernecki, a WorkSafe B.C. spokeswoman.

She said a WorkSafe investigator was sent to the scene. Knight Chernecki said the death was not related to a crash, but could not give further details, including the person’s name, age and gender.

The B.C. Wildfire Service confirmed there was a “medical incident” at the fire overnight on Monday.

When contacted for comment, TimberWest said information would come from the wildfire service.

Crews were battling a new fire at Maple Mountain in the Cowichan Valley on Wednesday.

Some residents had to evacuate their homes. They were allowed to return home just before 7 p.m. but an evacuation alert remained in effect. Residents have been advised they should be ready to leave in case the wildfire flares up again.

It was the fourth fire – among 462 wildfires burning across B.C. – to break out on Vancouver Island in the past few days.

The Municipality of North Cowichan said a number of fire departments and the B.C. Wildfire Service responded to the blaze, which was about one kilometre east of the parking lot for the municipal forest reserve on Osborne Bay Road.

By 6:50 p.m., the Cowichan Valley Regional District was thanking firefighters for “getting on this wildfire so quickly.” It said ground crews would continue working on putting the fire out and remain overnight to mop up flare-ups.

The public has been asked to avoid Maple Mountain, southeast of Duncan. “Closed” signs are being installed at all trailheads on Maple Mountain and at trailheads on Richards Mountain.

At Nanaimo Lakes, residents remained on edge because of an out-of-control, 179-hectare wildfire.

Sixty-four firefighters have been working night and day to contain the blaze, burning on Crown and private forestry land. Eight helicopters have been deployed, along with heavy equipment.

The Regional District of Nanaimo issued evacuation orders and evacuation alerts late Monday to people living near the wildfire, southwest of the city of Nanaimo. Seventy-seven homes are in the evacuation-alert area to the east of the fire. One home is believed to be in the area under evacuation order, to the west of the fire.

Colleen Berge, who lives on Elk Trails Way, said she and her husband were awake all night, constantly looking out the window to see if the fire had spread in their direction.

“It’s just terrible. It’s nerve-racking,” said Berge, who hasn’t experienced a similar scare in her 20 years living on their acreage.

Berge said she and her husband have packed up their valuables and sentimental items and readied a trailer for their horse.

Under an evacuation alert, residents are told to be prepared to leave on short notice. An evacuation order means everyone is to leave the area immediately.

Notice of an evacuation order could come via door-knocking, the news media, the RCMP, telephone calls and electronic media, the district said.

Late Tuesday, firefighters were sent to Port Alberni, where a five-hectare wildfire was discovered in the Beaufort Range area. On Wednesday afternoon, the fire was considered out of control, with 11 fire personnel and eight helicopters on scene.

A small, two-hectare fire south of Turtle Lake near Port Alberni was contained on Wednesday.

All the Island wildfires are believed to be human-caused.

Last summer was the worst wildfire season in B.C.’s history. This summer has seen far more small wildfires spread across the province, said Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer.

“In 2017, we had large fires burning, but not spread out to the same degree we’re seeing this year,” he said.

This time last year, there were 130 wildfires burning across the province, compared with the current 462, he said. The majority of the fires this summer are small and remote, he said.

The province has spent $131 million fighting fires since April 1.

About 2,800 firefighters and support staff are responding to the blazes, plus 1,200 contractors from the forestry industry and 100 out-of-province personnel, Skrepnek said.

The hot temperatures are expected to continue today. A temperature drop on Friday could bring winds and lightning, which could spark new fires, Skrepnek said.

“We’re keeping a close outlook on that weather for Friday,” he said. “We are bracing for it to be a challenging day.”

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