Fire hazard simmering at extreme 

All fires banned on south coast, no power tools within 10 metres of forest

With hot and dry conditions continuing in Whistler and along the South Coast the fire hazard rating climbed to extreme last week, with no relief in sight.

Whistler fire chief Rob Whitton says the situation is dangerous for the community and urged members of the public to take special care. In the past week his crews have responded to 10 calls for unattended campfires, including a fire in the Logger's Lake area that had the potential to spread quickly.

"We've been in a no fire situation since early July, and now we've moved into extreme it's really critical for us to get the word out," he said.

That means no outside fires within the entire south coast region, from Vancouver to Bella Bella. It also means no flames such as torches or briquette or wood barbecues are allowed in local parks, and wood barbecues have been banned from residential subdivisions.

After three days in extreme, new limits on construction were imposed as well.

"All work within 30 feet of forested areas must cease," he said. "When the (fire hazard rating) was at high you could work in the interface until 1 p.m., but now that's been removed. That goes for all power tools and power equipment, although you can still use hand tools in that area."

The longer the situation remains extreme the more limits may be placed on the use of Crown lands. For example, in 2003 the province closed all Crown land to all public traffic, with the exception of provincial parks.

"We haven't heard anything from the province yet but as we move closer to the weekend we'll be taking a hard look at this situation and whether we're getting into that scenario again," Whitton said. "If next week is extreme we will be contacting the province to see what they're doing and talking to municipal managers to see what they want to do and whether we would impose our own trail shut downs.

"It's tinder dry out there, very evident of what's happening in Kelowna right now and not very far off when it comes to our weather patterns."

Whistler has different and more fire-resistant vegetation, says Whitton, but "conversely it's worse when it gets started. The dynamics of our fuel load is significantly more hazardous than the Kelowna area."

The bottom line, says Whitton, is for people to be extra cautious in everything they do, or risk a fine up to $500. There is also a chance that carelessness could start a major fire.

He said all regular and volunteer members of the fire department are aware of the fire hazard, as are construction crews in the valley. Getting the word out to the public is even more important with no rain in the forecast.

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