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Editorial: Fire danger high; take no chances

Two close calls during the past two weekends should serve as ample warning of just how precarious the fire situation is on the Sunshine Coast.
O.Fire edit
A scene from the aftermath of the Old Sechelt Mine Fire in July 2015, with incident commander Reg Trapp surveying the damage.

Two close calls during the past two weekends should serve as ample warning of just how precarious the fire situation is on the Sunshine Coast.

Last Sunday it was a stunningly careless act of arson above Sechelt Airport that set surrounding brush on fire. The Sechelt Fire Department dealt with it quickly, but had it reached the nearby timber line, as fire prevention officer Matt Gilroy pointed out, the whole community would have been at risk.

The previous weekend it was a wildfire in upper Roberts Creek. Again, firefighters were right on top of it, holding it to less than a hectare and bringing it fully under control by the next day. But had the BC Wildfire Service crews been slower to respond, had the air tankers from Kamloops been tied up battling one of the giant fires now raging in their own backyard, had wind conditions changed, or had residents been less vigilant in calling in the first signs of smoke, the outcome could have been devastating.

It was exactly six years ago this week that the Old Sechelt Mine Fire started as a two-hectare grass fire up Mason Road. It grew to 250 hectares in a matter of days and cost the life of tree faller John Phare. As we later learned from incident commander Pete Laing, Phare’s leadership and hard work were key in gaining control of the fire perimeter.

“John and his crew allowed the firefighters to get into the fire where it was threatening life and property of local residents,” Laing wrote in a letter read out at Phare’s celebration of life. “Without these efforts, the fire would likely have spread to homes located south and east of the fire.”

Almost four years after the fire, the B.C. government confirmed what had long been suspected, that the fire “was likely started as a direct result of target shooting.”

Yes, something as trivial as target shooting was the likely cause of so much destruction, and yet it could have been worse. It could have wiped out Sechelt the way Lytton was wiped out last week – so fast that many residents had to leave their pets behind as they fled in terror.

The Sunshine Coast, like much of the province, currently has a fire danger rating of high. That means the forest is very dry and the risk of fire is serious. Campfires and open burning are strictly prohibited. Fines in excess of $1,000 will be issued for violations, as six were in the past week.

Use extreme caution outdoors. Take no chances and prepare an emergency bag with some cash, important documents, food, water, first-aid kit, a phone charger and other essentials. Summer has just begun and the forecast is for a long fire season.