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Fire hazard rating extreme

Campfires, barbecues banned in local provincial, municipal parks

Fire rating hazards leaped to extreme in the Sea to Sky corridor this past week as temperatures soared above 30 Celsius.

Sea to Sky corridor is the only extreme-rated area in the Ministry of Forests coastal fire centre region, which includes Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and the Lower Mainland.

"You guys are the hot spot," said Sue Croft, the centre’s information officer. Although rated extreme over the long weekend, Croft said the Pemberton to Squamish region was one of the few that didn’t receive any calls in the ministry’s jurisdiction. Other areas saw five calls a day from person-caused fires, Croft said, adding that open campfires will likely be banned this week.

"Given the high to extreme fire danger rating in this part of the province and elsewhere we just can’t afford to see person-caused fires."

Local firefighters pulled all barbecues from municipal parks as a preventative measure, said Whistler fire chief Bruce Hall. And after three small fires caused by cigarettes in Lost Lake Park were extinguished the fire chief cautioned residents and visitors to take care.

"We have to ask that people don’t use smoking materials in treed areas and don’t have campfires," Hall said. "It’s extremely dry and you have to be careful out there."

Hall also said that when extreme ratings are in place construction crews working in treed areas must finish work by noon.

Provincial ministry of transportation spokesperson Mike Long said Highway 99 upgrade crews are under similar restrictions.

"Crews that normally work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. will start earlier, 4 a.m. to 2 p.m.," Long said.

Coastal fire centre’s Croft said the prospect of mid-week thunderstorms is a concern, but lightning actually causes only about 40 per cent of forest fires, with most fires started by abandoned campfires. "People just need to be really careful and realize the risk," she said.

Preventative measures include limiting fires to one square metre in size, dousing and cooling the fire with water, and being aware of winds.

"If it’s a windy day then it might be safer not to have a fire that’s going to blow embers around," Croft said.

The last two weeks have been unseasonably warm, according to Environment Canada, with temperatures about 10 degrees above normal.

"The average temperature this time of year should be around 19 degrees," said meterologist Darlene Langlois. Last year the average temperature on the July long weekend was 16 C, she said. Since June 30, when the fire rating reached extreme, temperatures have been over 26 C each day. On June 26 the high temperature was 33 C.

"It’s not that unusual to have warm, dry weather in June, but it’s more common in the last two weeks of July and first weeks of August," Langlois said.

With its head office in Parksville, the coastal fire centre has 150 firefighters this summer, some already fighting near Tumbler Ridge, the northeastern B.C town of 4,000 that was evacuated this week. Squamish and Pemberton have two firefighter teams each: three-person initial attack teams and 20-person unit crews. "With a number of our crews helping out in other parts of the province we’ve backfilled some of those positions with contract crews, insuring that we still have full coverage locally," Croft said.