Dry weather, fresh bark mulch and carelessly flicked cigarettes have sparked a rash of small fires in the new medians on Island Highway.
Since the roadway reopened to two lanes in late June, View Royal Fire Rescue has responded to at least 20 bark mulch fires, virtually all attributable to smouldering cigarettes.
Lieut. Rob Marshall said the fires are a nuisance more than anything – none have threatened to leap into yards or buildings. But just as Island Highway commuters have returned to the joy of two uninterrupted lanes, traffic is getting jammed when firefighters roll in large firetrucks alongside smoky medians. Create a safe work zone for firefighters can often halt or divert traffic on the busy commuter route.
Most of the fires happen in the early morning or late afternoon, when commuters traffic is moving slowly and drivers who smoke flick smouldering butts out the window. Marshall said a few median fires have had two or three cigarettes burning bark mulch at the same time.
“It’s amazing how many cigarettes are flicked out there. As soon as one goes in, it burns through the bark mulch making a wispy smoke,” Marshall said.
“The issue we run into is with firefighter safety. With fire in the median we’ve almost got to stop traffic.”
Irrigation pipes run under the soil in the new medians, dripping water for plant roots but leaving the surface dry and prone to fires. Marshall said View Royal engineering is working on installing pop-up sprinklers for topdown wetting.