Steep terrain challenges firefighters dousing Duncan blaze

Firefighters from four different agencies and a helicopter were called out to battle a fire on cliffs above the Cowichan River on Sunday evening.

The South End hall made the initial response to the blaze just off the "Trails to Paradise," accessible from Gibbins Road and Cliffs Road, but soon had to call for assistance from the Duncan and Maple Bay halls, as well as the Coastal Fire Centre.

The location of the fire on a steep hill beside the river made it difficult for firefighters to reach, and created a challenge in getting water to the site, so the calls were made to get more firefighters and equipment.

"It was pretty much impossible for anyone to get at," said South End firefighter Capt. Malcolm Vale.

About 40 firefighters were on the scene from the South End, Duncan and Maple Bay halls and the Coastal Fire Centre.

The Coastal Fire Centre also dispatched a helicopter from Parksville to drop water on the flames.

"They did about nine drops," Vale said.

"That helped out huge."

The volunteer firefighters battled the blaze for about four hours on Sunday evening. They handed responsibility over to the Coastal Fire Centre overnight, then went back Monday morning for another three hours to put out hot spots.

"It was a lot of man hours and a fair amount of resources," Vale acknowledged.

Adding to the challenge was the size of the fire, estimated to be 200 feet wide and 100 feet across before firefighters reached it.

"Another 15 or 20 minutes and it would have been a different story altogether," Vale said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Vale cautioned visitors to the Cowichan woods to avoid smoking in the forest, and to refrain from dumping bottles and other garbage.

"The sun can magnify [through bottles] and start pretty quick," he said. "It’s so dry."