News » Whistler

Fire hazard prompts backcountry closures, caution in coastal region



Local businesses receive exemptions; events postponed

While crews in the Interior continue to battle serious blazes, the continuing dry conditions on the coast prompted the Coastal Fire Centre last week to issue a general backcountry travel ban for all Crown land and Forest Service roads in southern British Columbia. The areas affected included the Chilliwack, Squamish and South Island Forest Districts.

The travel restriction came into effect on Friday, Aug. 29, and will remain in effect until Sunday, Sept. 14.

The travel restriction applies to all timber harvesting operations and recreational forest use on Crown land. Those Forest Service roads that are necessary to access private and commercial properties remain open. Private, municipal and First Nations reserve land are exempt from the order.

The decision to close the Crown land occurred a day before the Labour Day long weekend, traditionally one of the busiest times for B.C.’s backcountry. There was some confusion as to what was closed and what remained open, as it took the Coastal Fire Centre and other agencies the entire weekend to post signs and barricade roads.

According to Starr Munro, the fire information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre, the restriction will be reviewed each week and will be extended until the area sees substantial rain.

"We need at least two to three days of heavy rain in most areas, and up to five days of constant rain in others to be safe," she said.

"The soil is really dry and the fires are getting pretty deep. The light rain we got only really wet the top layer, which is the quickest to dry, so it didn’t do much to help our situation."

Munro said there have been 225 wildfires in the coastal region this year, burning 246 hectares of forest. Some 163 of those fires are human-caused, related to everything from campfires to careless smoking to vehicle accidents.

"We’re fortunate so far that most of the fires have been small, less than a hectare in size, and were put out before they got too big," said Munro.

The number of human caused fires has been dropping, which means people are getting the message she said. Even so, fire wardens spent their long weekends visiting popular camping spots, both official and unofficial, to let people know about the closure.

"As more and more people become aware, we’re shifting from information and education to compliance and enforcement," said Munro. People can be fined up to $10,000 with up to six months of jail just for violating the ban. Starting a fire, even accidentally, could have more serious consequences.