NANAIMO — Despite a slow start to the forest fire season, Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews have already had to deal with their share of often preventable fires.
Acting chief Karen Fry reported crews have been called to nearly 50 incidents of bark mulch, brush or illegal fires already this year. Over the last three years there has been an average of 146 such incidents.
She said the primary culprit is carelessly tossed cigarette butts.
"Generally it's them being thrown out the windows (of cars) into meridians and empty grassy areas...It's really along the corridors, the train tracks and the roadways," Fry told NanaimoNewsNOW.
She noted Nanaimo firefighters had to deal with 11 preventable fires between May 25 and May 29 alone. According to the daily incident logs, those call-outs included two brush fires, a rubbish fire beside the highway, a bark mulch blaze and multiple illegal burning complaints.
Fry said bark mulch in planters on decks and patios are a big hazard because it dries out quickly and is very combustible.
Dealing with fires started by careless behaviour can be frustrating, Fry said.
"It could be preventing us from being first on scene at a cardiac arrest or a rescue or motor vehicle incident. That's always a concern for us, especially with preventable fires," Fry said.
She warned despite some recent rain, conditions can dry out very quickly and even two days of warm wind can create tinder-dry fire fuel.
Fire information officer Donna MacPherson agreed and said despite a well-hydrated forest coming into the season, upcoming warm weather has the Coastal Fire Centre (CFC) considering a backyard burning ban as early as next week.
"The forest does give up its moisture fairly quickly, especially the dry stuff that's on top of the ground...If we do get the weather that could come, it wouldn't take long for it to dry out," MacPherson said.
She recently reported only three forest fires in 2017 within the CFC, two of them human-caused.
Local timber companies have also taken notice of changing conditions. Island Timberlands recently closed access to an area of their Nanaimo Lakes land for safety reasons.
Fry said anyone concerned about their neighbourhood's conditions can call Nanaimo Fire and ask about their Fire Smart program, where crews will come out and diagnose possible safety issues.
She also stressed only cooking fires are allowed within city limits, which must be no larger than two feet in diameter and can only last for two hours.
Beach fires are banned within Nanaimo city limits.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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