Dry conditions in early spring have local fire chiefs on edge.
The big threat is wildfires and firefighters across the region are preparing for what could be a bad year.
“I was happy to see rain today,” said Sooke Fire Chief Kenn Mount, pointing out the probability of wildfires increased last month due to weather and the lack of rainfall.
Crews and officials across B.C. are in preparation mode ahead of the summer, following the two most destructive wildfire seasons recorded in B.C.’s history.
While local fire departments in the region practice for action, several fires have already sparked across the province, from Squamish and Vancouver Island to the Interior and northern B.C.
A wildfire started two weeks ago in Saseenos when an open fire got out of control. Sooke firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze.
The wildfire provided a cautionary tale for Mount.
“It just takes a gust of wind and things can get out of hand pretty quickly,” he said.
In Sooke and Otter Point, wildfire prep is top of mind.
Both fire departments are providing advanced training for career and volunteer firefighters.
Otter Point is dedicating an entire month to specialized wildfire training, said Fire Chief John McCrae.
“We take it very seriously,” he said.
The Sooke Region is unique in typography with some areas having foliage comparable to southern California, like Harbourview, Connie, Nagle and Gillespie roads, and then there are other areas like Otter Point which have a more temperate rain forest.
Two years ago, a wildfire on the south face of Mount Quimper taxed the resources of Sooke Fire Rescue. The slow-moving fire was small by wildfire standards but the terrain caused firefighters difficulty. Three helicopters and air water tanker were used to help suppress the blaze.
Last summer, about 100 hectares burned at Tugwell Creek, west of Sooke. More than 70 firefighters fought the blaze, along with five helicopters, six water tenders, and other heavy equipment.
Both fires were believed to be human-caused.
McCrae and Mount believe community education is the key to reducing the risk of wildfires.
But it’s a tale of two cities on awareness.
We're gearing up to keep #BC'ers and their communities safe from wildfires this summer.
This means more crews, new technology, more #BCwildfire prevention initiatives, and stronger relationships with communities, First Nations and industry.
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) March 21, 2019
In Sooke, the fire department has seen a decrease in nuisance fires over the last two years, while Otter Point still has work to do, McCrae said.
“I feel like people may be complacent here because we’ve had no big fires in the region, unlike in the Interior,” he said. “We have to be aware of hazards.”
But massive wildfires, evacuation orders and smoky skies are becoming regular facets of summer and will continue to become more severe, a B.C. fire ecologist predicts.
Robert Gray, a Chilliwack-based fire ecologist with more than 30 years experience in fire science, believes conditions such as those seen in the last two years will become increasingly common – unless new forest management practices are adopted.
Gray suggests conducting prescribed burns in spring and fall to reduce the amount of fuel available for wildfires in the summer.
“Unfortunately that means putting smoke into the sky,” he added.
He also advocates other efforts to reduce the amount of dead wood, needs and other fuel sources on the forest floor.