Kendra Wong/Victoria News
With unseasonably warm temperatures, dry weather and lack of moisture, local fire departments are bracing for a long season of grass and mulch fires.
“Right now we’re monitoring our grass levels. Some of the areas like Anderson and Gonzales hills, there we’re starting to look at whether or not that’s going to be posted in the next week or so, with regards to fire danger for those grass areas,” said Oak Bay fire chief Dave Cockle.
“We are monitoring just because the weather has been so good and we’ve had limited rainfall for almost four weeks now.”
Oak Bay fire doused two bark mulch fires in June, both outside Oak Bay Recreation Centre.
“Things are really dry out there,” said Capt. Richard Pala of the Saanich Fire Department. “Our hazard rating in Greater Victoria, certainly in Saanich, is at high and that means the surface fuels are very dry. So grass fires are very easy ignited.”
Saanich fire responded to 59 grass fires in 2014. So far this year, they’ve seen 20 grass fires – 14 of which were in May and three already in June.
The main culprits are people who leave cigarette butts.
“People go out and have a smoke break and in two hours it’s gone from smouldering to flaming,” said Pala, noting that many of the fires occurred in front of businesses such as gas stations, offices or bus stops.
Broken glass, which can also magnify the rays of the sun, is also cause for concern.
The Victoria Fire Department has also seen a significant increase in the number of mulch fires. From January to June of this year, crews have responded to 23 mulch fires, almost double the amount they had the previous year.
“With the exceedingly dry conditions, they can start with something as simple as a cigarette butt being carelessly discarded to someone deliberately setting it with a match or a lighter,” said Doug Carey, deputy chief with the Victoria Fire Department.
He noted it takes a minimum of one fire truck and four firefighters to respond to a mulch or grass fire.
With the extra-dry conditions in mind, local fire deparments are asking people to be diligent outside.
The number one way to reduce the risk of grass and mulch fires is to properly discard cigarette butts or make sure they’re completely out before walking away, and properly discarding glass jars or bottles.
For property owners, keep lawns cut reasonably low and clear leaves that may have collected.
“Be aware that we’re in extreme drought conditions in the Greater Victoria area. We’ve just come through the driest May on record and we’re setting up for a very dry June. Please be diligent with your use of parks and recreational areas,” said Carey.