It’s hard to believe Smokey Bear has been trying to prevent wildfires for 60 years, and people still aren’t getting his message – ‘Only you can prevent forest fires.’
Just a few weeks into the fire season, and crews from the Southeast Fire Centre have already been called out 27 times.
All of those incidents were human caused, and most were unattended or abandoned campfires.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that when they have a campfire, unattended means you are leaving the area for any amount of time,” says Fanny Bernard, the centre’s fire information officer. “That means turning in for the night, fishing for a few hours or going on a quick hike. If you are leaving for any amount of time, the fire has to put out.”
Ashes have to be cool to the touch, which means at least eight litres of water need to be on hand along with a hand tool such as a shovel, to stir the cinders and ensure water soaks deep enough to completely extinguish the fire.
“People are surprised at how quickly a fire can spark and how quickly the wind can carry it to combustible material,” said Bernard. “That’s why site selection of the campfire is important and also, if it’s windy enough to carry embers or sparks, then it’s not a good day for a camp fire or backyard burning.”
She said if conditions are favourable for a campfire, then its size must be limited to less than a half metre by a half metre.
Most of the region is listed as moderate for fire danger rating, meaning anyone in the forest must exercise caution because forest fuels are drying and there is an increased risk of surface fires starting.
Notably in Trail, there are already patches deemed a high fire danger rating following the lowest snowpack in 31 years and only 50 per cent of the typical April rainfall.
High fire danger means forest fuels are very dry, and fire risk is serious. New fires can start easily, burn vigorously and be difficult to contain, so open burning and industrial activities may be restricted.
“It’s been snow-free for longer than usual,” said Bernard. “Fuels are dry and rains have been scattered so people might leave their home where it’s rained quite a bit, and go recreate or camp somewhere that might only have a couple of millimetres of rain, if at all.”
She said the lack of rain in certain areas wasn’t enough to lower the fire danger from high, so it’s critical the public practises extreme caution.
“Not just now but anytime using fire for back yard burning or having a campfire,” she said. “It’s important not to light up more than you could reasonably expect to put out if it does escape.”
For a look at interactive maps and information about specific areas, the venting indices, or air quality, visit, bcwildfire.ca.
“If people notice it’s really smoky in their area, they can go on the site in live time,” explained Bernard. “And check where the smoke is coming from.”