Fire departments across the West Kootenay have been responding to more fires than usual, many of them originating from burn piles or grass fires in rural areas that have spread out of control.
A shortage of spring rain has led to dry conditions throughout the region and local fire chiefs and the Southeast Fire Centre are asking residents and industry to use caution when deciding to burn.
Ootischenia Fire Chief Len Coates says some of the problem comes from afternoon winds that suddenly increase or change direction, leaving property owners scrambling to keep a fire under control. Another problem is people who just aren’t prepared with the right tools or who haven’t checked the weather forecast before burning.
Fire departments in Pass Creek, Robson, Crescent Valley, Castlegar, Beasley and Ootischenia have all been called to wildland fires in recent weeks.
The Castlegar department was called to a fire that illustrates that burning slash piles on your property isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The fire was at an industrial site on the edge of town. The property owners had burned a slash pile there and extinguished it (or so they thought) a month prior. Strong winds stirred up embers that had been smoldering underground that whole time and the fire quickly spread to almost one hectare in size.
Castlegar called in the Ootischenia Fire Department to help with hauling water since there were no fire hydrants nearby. BC Wildfire crews also responded.
Chief Sam Lattanzio said it took 4000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze.
The Crescent Valley Fire Department (CVFD) recently responded to a fire in Krestova that was a close call.
“We were very lucky that the fire was near the only road in the area we could get our fire engine down, and we were able to get water on it just as the strong wind pushed it down a rock outcrop to the edge of a large forested area,” said a CVFD spokesperson on social media.
“A few minutes later and it could have resulted in a significant forest fire.”
The fire was likely caused by a small campfire that was started earlier in the day and not properly extinguished.
The Southeast Fire Centre (SEFC) issued a public notice on April 20 encouraging everyone to use caution when burning.
As the temperature increases, the grass cures and dries, making it extremely flammable, especially in windy conditions, warned SEFC.
They also issued the following guidelines:
• Never burn in windy conditions. Weather conditions can change quickly, and the wind may carry embers to other combustible material and start new fires.
• Ensure that adequate resources are on hand to control the fire and stop it from spreading.
• Create an appropriately sized fireguard around the planned fire site by clearing away twigs, grass, leaves and other combustible material, right down to the mineral soil.
• Never leave a fire unattended.
• Make sure that any fire is completely extinguished, and the ashes are cold to the touch before leaving the area for any length of time.
Any fire over the size of two metres by three metres must be registered.