A local fire chief has had enough after the “absolute disregard” for the public’s well-being culminated in two preventable incidents at Thetis Lake Regional Park over the long weekend.
View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst is calling for realistic solutions to Thetis Lake, even if that means closing some of the park during the summer.
“It’s a mess at Thetis Lake and it’s getting worse in my opinion,” Hurst said in a statement. “For bylaw, it’s like pouring a glass of water on a forest fire. They are in an impossible situation, and quite frankly I’m done with it, and so should most of the visitors to the park who go there to enjoy their day, not to have their child witness a cliff accident or drunk belligerent people.”
Firefighters and B.C. Ambulance paramedics were called on Saturday afternoon (Aug. 1) after a teenager was found unconscious on a trail behind the lake. Crews determined the 15-year-old was severely intoxicated.
The second incident happened as crews were returning to the station. They were immediately called back to the lake after a brush fire was reported on the big island. Fire crews deployed forestry equipment and their marine unit to access the fire, caused by a campfire. According to Hurst, the person who lit the fire swam away before crews arrived.
“These two incidents not only tied up emergency resources in View Royal for several hours but also those of Colwood and Langford Fire, who were tasked with looking after the Town of View Royal while we were deployed. Both of these incidents are 100 per cent preventable and result in the unnecessary deployment of significant resources to manage. On top of this, first responder crews were subject to harassment on this call and in the execution of their duties,” Hurst said.
He noted firefighters also voiced concern about the “absolute disregard” for physical distancing on the beach and trails. He added the main beach resembled pictures of overcrowded beaches from spring break in the U.S.
“My firefighters have to not only manage the incident but wade through groups of people who have zero regard for their own well-being or that of emergency services personnel.”
Asked if View Royal Fire Rescue has seen an uptick in calls or if this is typical for the summer season, Hurst said looking back at the ’80s and ’90s, the department (in consultation and agreement with the City of Victoria, previous owners) would close the back of the park because of high or extreme fire ratings. This led to no visitors off the main beach, which resulted in few or no rescue, fire or alcohol-related calls. But as he noted, this isn’t the case now and hasn’t been practised for several years.
Hurst is eager to sit down with Capital Regional District officials to discuss what he called realistic solutions to the park and its problems while creating a long-term plan.
“All options are on the table from my perspective, as the costs are excessive and the risks far outweigh the benefit of doing nothing and simply responding to pick up the pieces of irresponsible decisions.”
Hurst added bylaw officers have been working hard in the park to educate and mitigate issues.
“They spoke to people on the beach about physical distancing; they spoke to people on the cliffs about the dangers associated … and I will bet you know where they were told to go.”
CRD bylaw officers work with the RCMP, municipal police and fire detachments to reduce alcohol and drug use, smoking and other risky behaviours in the park, noted a spokesperson for the CRD. In 2018, the CRD board approved a $100,000 budget for additional enforcement relating to dog management and park regulations. A portion of that allows for more time to be spent educating visitors about swimming and cliff-jumping hazards, especially at Thetis Lake.
The CRD noted visitation to its parks and trails increases every year and peaks during the summer months, especially at popular destinations such as Thetis Lake, with the majority of visitors respectful of others and natural areas.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CRD is reminding visitors to do their part on beaches and in parks. This includes staying home if ill; keeping two metres apart from other visitors on the beaches, trails or in the water; yielding to others while walking single file; and parking in designated spots to ensure emergency vehicle access. The CRD is also asking residents to consider using other areas in parks if visitors are unable to properly practice physical distancing or returning at another time if the parking lot is full.
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