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Be vigilant: Fire season begins in earnest

Fire danger rating forecast to hit extreme



After a wet spring, Whistler's 2017 fire season has begun in earnest.

Hot, dry weather over the past week has driven Whistler's fire danger rating to high.

"We're predicted to go to extreme by Thursday (June 29), and it will put us all on a heightened awareness in terms of what's going on around us," said Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) chief Geoff Playfair.

"My message for anybody is if you're out in the woods enjoying the sunshine, be diligent, be responsible and call if there's a problem that you see."

Campfires are banned in municipal boundaries and certain construction activities are restricted until the fire danger rating drops.

Residents and visitors are reminded to be extra vigilant and to immediately report all fires in Whistler by calling 911.

Fires outside of Whistler should be reported to the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) at 1-800-663-5555 (*5555 toll-free on most cell networks).

The warm weather was accompanied by some fire activity in the area over the past week.

On the evening of June 25, local crews responded to a fire that was 20 metres by 20 metres in the Wedge crossing area just outside of municipal boundaries. (See related story on page 14.)

"Somebody had a campfire in that area (on June 25) and clearly didn't put it out efficiently," Playfair said.

"It was a team effort between WFRS and BCWS and it went really well... sometime just before midnight it was completely out."

The next night, BCWS crews responded to a fire about 10 kilometres north of Pemberton on the Miller Bench FSR.

The fire — determined to be human-caused — was about 2.6 hectares and remained under investigation at Pique's press time.

There is currently a Category 2 open fire prohibition in the Coastal Fire Centre, "and that means no backyard debris burning, no Tiki torches, no sky lanterns, anything like that," said fire information officer Marg Drysdale with the BCWS.

"One of the things that we do deal with this time of year is a number of weddings, and a number of weddings they do want to have sky lanterns or even small fireworks, and those are both prohibited right now."

Just after 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 24, the WFRS also responded to a report of a fire at a home in Alpine on Matterhorn Drive. Playfair said the blaze developed quickly, causing "extensive damage" to the home.

"The whole roof is destroyed and essentially so is the main floor," he noted.

The house's occupants were not home at the time, and no one was injured, Playfair said.

Officials suspect the fire was started by a pile of wet staining rags that were left on a patio at the rear of the building.

"Definitely a spontaneous combustion is normal for using rags with that kind of product," Playfair said of the staining material. "That's where I'm focusing my investigation."

Playfair commended a pair of quick-thinking neighbours who called the fire in after attempting to put out the smouldering rags themselves. Firefighters had the blaze mostly contained to the house's roof system by 7:30 p.m.

"It was awesome they were observant and took action both by trying to put out the fire and calling the department," he said.

Playfair also said that if the homeowner hadn't removed several trees from around the house recently, then the blaze may have spread further.

"Had we had open flames, we would have had a real problem with interface fire and other homes would have been affected," he explained. "If you haven't thought about FireSmarting your home, get on it."

-With files from Brandon Barrett