Weekend fires in Cowichan just the beginning: fire chief

Firefighters in the Cowichan Valley had their hands full over the weekend as temperatures climbed to record highs, creating perfect conditions for wildfires.

Malahat volunteer firefighters had to call out nearby departments and the B.C. Forest Service for assistance with a blaze near Spectacle Lake on Friday, and the story was similar as the Sahtlam department battled a hilltop fire on Sunday afternoon.

The fire on Friday, which burned about 1.5 hectares on Crown land on the east side of Spectacle Lake, started around 4 p.m., and got to within 500 metres of the nearest home.

Malahat fire chief Rob Patterson was confident that the blaze was human-started.

"There was no lightning, so we can rule out nature."

The Malahat department called for mutual aid from Mill Bay and Shawnigan Lake volunteer fire departments, as well as the B.C.

Forest Service Wildfire Management Branch.

The Forest Service performed multiple air tanker drops and multiple helicopter drops to help knock the flames down.

The Malahat firefighters were on the scene until 11:30 p.m., when they turned things over to Forest Service crews.

Those crews were still patrolling for hot spots on Monday morning.

"This time of year, it takes time to cool down, and for the last of the hot spots to pop off," Patterson explained.

That was the Malahat department’s first forest fire of the season, but Patterson doesn’t anticipate it being the last one.

"Things are heating up and drying out, so there will be more fire in the next week or so," he said.

On Sunday afternoon, Sahtlam firefighters were called to a blaze that flared up at a get-together at an off-grid house off Stoltz Road.

"They went down to the river to swim, and when they came back, there was a fire on the hillside," Sahtlam deputy chief Mike Lees said, noting that a quick bucket brigade was formed as the fire department was called.

The party included a pig roast, and Lees suspected that the fire may have been caused by improper disposal of the charcoal.

The fire burned about three quarters of a hectare on a steep, rocky slope.

Eight members from Sahtlam attended as well as six from Lake Cowichan, along with three Forest Service firefighters. They were on the scene from 1:30 to 7 p.m. The Forest Service did send in a helicopter, although ultimately, it wasn’t used.

"It’s easier to stand them down than get up there and realize you should have called them in," Lees explained.

BC Ambulance was also called in, and transported a couple of overheated firefighters to Cowichan District Hospital. "They were on the side of the hill, fully exposed to the sun. Once your core temperature starts going up, it’s hard to get it down," Lees said.

Temperatures climbed 33.4 degrees C on Sunday afternoon, according to Environment Canada.

Forest fires like the two last weekend are preventable, both fire chiefs said.

"Watch what you’re doing when you’re in the woods," Patterson cautioned

"Don’t toss out cigarette butts, and if you see a piece of glass, pick it up."

Patterson also advised against quadding and dirt biking in restricted areas, which is a common cause of fires.

Lees recommended Emergency Management BC’s "Be FireSmart Not FireDumb" program, which can be seen at www.emergencyinfobc. gov.bc.ca/be-firesmart-notfiredumb. html "Be careful disposing of charcoal and smoking," he said. "Use some common sense in and around your property. Make your property fire safe."