Beach fire patrols heat up for summer

Fire ban continues on beaches in Oak Bay and Victoria

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle checks out the remains of a recent fire that left multiple thick logs scorched on the beach along Dallas Road. Oak Bay paired up with Victoria Fire this year to up patrols in hopes of hammering home the message that beach fires are illegal.

With the onset of early summer weather, Oak Bay Fire has already dealt with six beach fires in recent weeks.

The local fire department paired up with Victoria Fire to hammer home the message that fires are not allowed on local beaches, to preserve the environment for everyone to enjoy.

“This year what we’re trying is a new approach to providing greater awareness with the beach fire situation in the City of Victoria and District of Oak Bay and just some of the struggles that we’ve had trying to convey the importance of the messaging in regards to how potentially dangerous these could be to not only the environment but people trying to enjoy the beach,” said Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce.

In a bid to combat illegal fires and improve awareness, joint patrols by police, fire and bylaw officers will take place on Victoria and Oak Bay beaches each weekend throughout the summer. Those found with a fire could be fined $350 to $2,000 in Victoria and $50 to $2,000 in Oak Bay.

“Our beaches are beautiful and we want to keep it that way for everyone,” said Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle.

Smoke from a beach fire not only impacts air quality for nearby residents, it is toxic. When burned, driftwood releases carcinogenic dioxins into the air due to combustion of the sea salt-saturated wood.

“It’s the products that are picked up from the ocean and the salt as well as the other products that are picked up out of the sea and rolled up on the beach,” Cockle said “The other thing that you don’t see is how they get them started … They use some kind of a flammable starter to get it going, usually barbecue lighter fluid or something along those lines.”

Beach fires are often difficult to access due to their location. A small or smouldering beach fire can be time consuming to put out, tying up emergency responders who may be needed elsewhere in the community.

“As a single engine company we’re tying up the resources that we have in Oak Bay every time we have to do one of these,” said Cockle.

When a fire is discovered or restarts at 2 a.m. firefighters and police officers are left in the dark, managing heavy gear and equipment, Bruce added.

“There’s a lot of hazards just in the environment plus the potential for broken glass and people,” he said. “If [allowing fires] was something we could manage we probably would have come up with a way to manage it by now, but it’s quite frankly not manageable.”

On the sandy beaches of Oak Bay, each year adults, children and pets are burned by fires smothered by sand instead of water, leaving them smouldering beneath the surface. Beach fires are also a risk to ecologically-sensitive plants and trees in the area, and pose a risk to nearby homes.

“To come down here and continue to burn salt water-laden wood and tie up the resources of the city, scar the environment and potentially create a bigger issue, that’s what we’re trying to address,” said Bruce.

The Victoria Fire Department responds to nearly 200 beach fire calls each year that put people’s health, property and the environment at risk. The Oak Bay Fire Department, on average, responds to 25 beach fire calls per year.

“I understand that there’s people that want to come down here. Well, there’s certain things in life you just can’t do as part of being a good citizen, being a good steward of the community. That’s all we’re asking for, is give some consideration to the other people that like to enjoy these things.”

Fires fuelled by natural gas, propane or charcoal briquette contained within a portable appliance or device that has been specifically designed for that purpose, are allowed.

To report a beach fire, contact the Victoria Fire at 250-384-1122 or the Oak Bay Fire at 250-592-9121.