Under the right conditions, West Shore residents could find themselves in a similar situation as those fleeing the fire that has devastated Fort McMurray and surrounding areas, warns Langford Fire Chief Bob Beckett.
Back in 1995 and ‘96 when the City of Langford started creating an emergency preparedness plan, wildland-urban interface fires were deemed the number one risk to the community.
“That still applies and given the climate change, I think the risk is even greater,” he said.
Wildland-urban interface refers to the transition zone between unoccupied land and human development, which is at greater risk of devastation from wildfires. It’s a topic Langford has been addressing over the past few years by consulting with forest fire experts and developers.
“We get closer and closer to the fuels that are there,” Beckett said. Comparing fuels – flammable material – in our region with the Interior, for example, he determined them to be quite different. “We actually probably have more. If something gets going, it could be more difficult to put out.”
With many dry, hot days under our belt this spring and a long hot summer in the forecast, Beckett is urging West Shore residents to be more cautious than ever.
While the number of people that continue to indiscriminately toss lit cigarette butts out never ceases to amaze him, the chief said many people are starting to get the message. As forest fires gain more media attention, he said, “the awareness certainly does hit home.”
It’s an awareness local departments are trying to spark, a little earlier than usual, especially with local fire ratings already sitting at high. “I think it reflects the increased risks,” Beckett added. “Last year we had a significant period where each day, week after week, we had extreme risk.”
That risk is starting early this year. Langford Fire Rescue responded to five bark mulch fires over the weekend – a sixth was put out Monday morning’s fire. All of the blazes were caused by discarded cigarettes.
“I don’t know how many we’ve had in the last two weeks,” Beckett said. “I guess folks are just assuming it’s not dry enough.”
But it certainly is and he is urging residents to be mindful of that. “Please, just don’t throw your cigarettes out the window.”
Cigarette butts aren’t the only cause of forest fires and there are a number of ways residents can help local fire departments make the community safer. Langford Fire Rescue is working with other fire departments and key emergency responders in the region to develop strategies for dealing with a catastrophic event and to educate the public, Beckett said.
He compared a home to a candle.
“Think of the wax as your home,” he said. The wick, is your neighbour’s home and the surrounding property. “The less amount of fuel leading up to the wick the better.”
He nodded to some of the pictures coming out of Fort McMurray that show a few homes still standing in the devastation. “Some of it’s luck, some of it is applying the fire smart philosophy and approach.” It all comes back to emergency preparedness. “There are some things that are fundamental. Be safe, be smart and have a plan.”
To learn more about what you can do to prevent fires go bcwildfire.ca or contact your local fire department for a fire smart pamphlet.