Extreme fire hazard warnings for Whistler 

Small fire on Garbanzo likely caused by smoker

A smoker who threw his cigarette out the window of a gondola cabin was likely the cause of a fire on Whistler Mountain on Tuesday in the Tower 21 area.

The fire was reported at 3:08 p.m., and a joint operation involving mountain staff from lift maintenance, bike park patrol and snowmaking that were trained in fire suppression were on the scene almost immediately. With patrol director Wayne Coughlin assuming the role of incident commander, the fire was pronounced out and under control at 3:28. Whistler Fire Rescue Services, Blackcomb Helicopters, and the B.C. Forestry Service were notified immediately, and placed on standby in case the fire got out of control.

Also in Whistler, fire services has been called out to deal with two campfires since Monday that have been left smouldering — one in the Lost Lake area, and another in the Wedgemont area north of Emerald Estates.

While all of the incidents were minor, they underline the fact that the fire hazard rating in the Whistler area has been shifting from high to extreme and back again regularly over the past few weeks. One of the driest Junes on record — just 12 millimetres of rain compared to an average of 60 mm — and a dry start to July, are contributing to the extreme fire hazard rating which had been in place for five days as of Wednesday.

Despite the conditions, the Coastal Fire Centre was battling just one fire on Vancouver Island this week, while watching a handful of other sites where fires have been extinguished.

The elevated fire hazard prompted the B.C. Forest Service to recall two tankers and a spotting aircraft from California last week, as well as request three additional tankers and another spotting aircraft from the Yukon.

“It’s a general preparedness thing that’s province wide,” said Breana Carey, fire information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre. “We want to make sure we’re ready if conditions stay the same, with elevated risks around the province.”

Carey says the hazard rating fluctuates daily based on temperatures, precipitation, wind and humidity. The availability of ready fuel, like trees killed by the pine beetle infestation, also impacts the rating.

“Right now we have an extreme fire danger rating for the Whistler area, which means fires have the potential to spread fast and burn forests, and that fires are easier to start and harder to stop with the difficult conditions,” she added. “We’re on patrol, making sure no hot spots reignite, and we’re watching developments closely.”

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