Fred and Cairine Green keep a trim lawn, especially during summer when fire risk is high – a tactic employed by homeowners and local governments alike to reduce fire fuel.
Between recent events and her own personal history, Cairine – who is also an Oak Bay councillor – was unsurprisingly freaked out to find a handful of cigarette butts in her unpaved alleyway.
Fred keeps the lawn mowed and the alleyway tidy, as do the neighbours, but tinder dry tall grasses do grow in some places. The grassy lanes are lined with wood fences, outbuildings and garages.
The thought of fire sweeping through is terrifying for Cairine. While it wasn’t drought-related, in her mind she still smells the 1998 house fire that happened when they lived in North Saanich.
“It was very shocking … you never forget that experience,” she said. So was finding butts in the lane, especially in the wake of recent and ongoing in B.C. and worldwide.
The wind-driven, fatal fire that devastated Lahaina, Hawaii was particularly impactful – leaving Cairine wondering what could happen here with a little wind and a spark.
“It could spread through neighbourhoods. It’s a different typography I guess … but still,” she said. “I think Lahaina is a wake-up call for all of us in a community setting.”
Cairine has words of caution for friends, neighbours, residents and visitors echo those of fire departments around the region. Take care of smoking materials, store combustibles away from structures,
“It was the discarded cigarette butts that freaked us out,” she said. “But it’s about all of us.”
Sparks and wind are also top of mind for Acting Deputy Chief Roger Stewart of the Oak Bay Fire Department.
“We’re asking people to be hyper-vigilant when they’re travelling within our district, within our parks, and also keeping an eye on their home with fire safety in mind,” Stewart said, standing on freshly trimmed, crispy grass in Uplands Park.
He recalls fighting a fire in that very park early in his career. While firefighters battled the blaze, they were also mindful of the heat generated by the working truck.
Fires could start that easily in the 76 acres of natural lands, featuring several Garry oak meadows. While cigarette butts are a common concern, something as simple as a piece of glass on a hot day can cause devastation.
Uplands is like many parks in Greater Victoria, where municipal crews carefully mow long grass.
“They’re cutting down high ladder fuels we call them. That’s how a fire will go from being on the ground to being in the trees where it can travel quite quickly,” Stewart said. “If we were to have a fire here in Uplands Park it would move very rapidly because it’s wind-driven, so the district is taking measures to lower that risk.”
It’s important people don’t smoke in parks and take appropriate precautions if they do choose to. But – as Cairine Green contends – that care needs to extend to other areas of the community.
“The public needs to be hyper-vigilant at this time and exercise extraordinary care when smoking, barbecuing and burning materials in their fireplaces,” Stewart said.
The department is seeing a recent uptick in garbage container fires, spurring a reminder to ensure fire materials are treated appropriately.
For burned things, including ashes, they should be cooled and put in a metal container, then doused with water and disposed of appropriately. A trash bin should never contain flammable or combustible liquids, hazardous materials, canisters containing propellants, cylinders with compressed gas, batteries, ashes or charcoal. Bins should be kept away from combustible walls, decks and things such as woodpiles.
Oak Bay fire recently developed an array of new public education information it expects to release soon. Among other sources, the information will be on the district site at oakbay.ca.