A portion of vacant land near the Sechelt Hospital was clear cut last week to reduce the risk of human-caused fires, according to the shíshálh Nation.
“We had four fires in the span of five weeks,” said Chief Warren Paull in a release. “The Sechelt Fire Department was called to the site for unattended fires. The proximity of that forested lot, near the hospital, the hydro substation and residential homes, posed a significant safety risk,” he said.
The lot has been used as a homeless camp in recent months.
“I can appreciate the challenges of homeless people, but we’re forced to find a resolution to this potential fire issue because the greater community was at risk,” said Paull.
The vacant lot near the hospital has been a known problem area for years, with about 12 calls on average annually, according to Sechelt Fire Department chief Trevor Pike.
But in the last couple of years there has been a “significant increase in fire activity in that area,” which prompted the department to contact the Nation and work with them on a solution.
As a preventive measure the department agreed to ban campfires in the area, even when they were legal everywhere else.
“That particular piece of property, if it was to go up, it would pose a significant risk to the hospital and the Sechelt substation, which are two pretty important resources to us and our community… We had to come up with some type of solution,” said Pike.
Among the options discussed were transforming the area into a park, selectively logging trees and removing underbrush, and clear cutting. Pike commended the Nation “for being progressive with their approach to the community’s well being, because the hospital is one of our biggest assets.”
“I know they have plans, they’re not going to leave it as it is right now,” said Pike, acknowledging the clear cut land is an “eyesore” for the general public.
The Nation said in its release that there are no formal plans yet for the cleared lot.
The risk of fire in forested areas in and around urban areas on the Sunshine Coast has been a bigger problem lately, said Pike, who last May had identified that vacant lot as one of the areas where people were living outside. That month 17 firefighters were needed to douse a beach fire at the foot of Shorncliffe Avenue that burned out of control and destroyed a homeless camp.
“The fire and life safety issue in regards to folks living in the forested areas around our community has definitely increased and the risk has increased as a result of that because a lot of these folks have fires to cook and keep warm,” said Pike, noting that it’s a particular problem in the summer. “Hopefully we can continue to work with these folks and these groups and try to minimize the risk as much as we can.”
– With files from Sean Eckford