UPDATED: Three small wildfires highlight risk factors in Powell River region

Oyster farmers first on scene to contain small Okeover fire

Wildfire risk in qathet Regional District and City of Powell River became all too real over the BC Day holiday long weekend. Three fires that crews responded to were thought to be human caused.

In Okeover Inlet, quick action from area oyster farmers using their own pumps and hoses contained a 0.2 hectare brush fire before an eight-member crew from Northside Volunteer Fire Department (NVFD) arrived.

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Mike Mullan, who saw the smoke from his deck, was one of the first on the scene and said they dodged a bullet.

“We were proactive, we spotted it early,” said Mullan. “We were right beside a creek and there was no wind.”

By the time the Northside Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the fire was contained, according to department chief Jim Brown.

The fire was rated category one as a slow, creeping ground fire. It was discovered at 7:30 am on August 6.

According to a statement from BC Wildfire Service, one of its crews responded and three firefighters were helicoptered in to assist. The fire is under control, according to the statement.

Brown said the situation could have been much worse if not for area residents.

“It was bad in there; really hot,” he said. “It would have kept going if they hadn't got there when they did and started working; it could have been very severe.”

While BC Wildfire Service has not determined how the fire started, Brown said he suspects it was human caused.

Also, a small stump fire attended to by NVFD at 3 am on Tuesday, August 7, was quickly extinguished, according to Brown. He said that fire was also more than likely human caused.

Meanwhile, in Powell River, a crew from Powell River Fire Rescue (PRFR) was called at about 2 pm on August 5 to a fire burning near the north end of Willingdon Beach.

The fire was burning around a large cedar tree, stump and surrounding combustible materials, according to deputy fire chief Rocky Swanson.

Swanson said there is no way to know for sure but PRFR believes evidence of human activity suggests smoking was likely the cause.

“There's no reason with the relative humidity that was in the air a fire should just start spontaneously on its own,” he said. “The conditions weren't right for that.”

Although small, the fire was difficult for the crew because they had to dig into duff, a layer of fallen twigs, needles and leaves, he added.

“Some of that is metres deep; a thousand years of pine needles and leaves and all of that,” said Swanson. “I've seen a fire burn its way through this, burn small tunnels and pop up 100 metres away. It can be very difficult to put out.”

Swanson said thermal imagery can track what the fire is doing underground. The technology was not used on the Willingdon fire.

He said PRFR is not overly concerned about fires such as those currently burning in the BC interior.

“With the type of fuel that's in our forest, it's not panic stations yet,” he said, “but we would have to be completely remiss to think that because of the changing climate this won't be a problem, because it's going to be a problem.”

Wildfire risk remains at category five, indicating extreme danger in the Powell River area.



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