The Coastal Fire Centre is looking ahead to the wildfire season on Vancouver Island. (Phil McLachlan – Western News)

The Coastal Fire Centre is looking ahead to the wildfire season on Vancouver Island. (Phil McLachlan – Western News)

Coastal Fire Centre looking ahead at wildfire season on Vancouver Island

‘We’re asking people in the spring to be very careful’

Despite one fire burning on Vancouver Island near Gold River, the area’s forests came out of the winter in good shape heading into this year’s wildfire season.

According to the Coastal Fire Centre, the area didn’t start the fire season in a drought, however, the past two weeks presented warm and dry weather with low relative humidity, said Donna MacPherson, fire information officer with the organization.

“The surface of the forest … is the area without roots and is full of branches, twigs and dead leaves. It hasn’t hit the ‘green-up’ where weeds and grasses are up yet and creates a shelter over the dryer debris, and shelters it from the sun and wind,” she explained. “Right now, we’re in a moderate fire rating danger for Vancouver Island.”

On April 19, a small fire – 4.5 hectares – began on steep slopes about 70 km west of Courtenay. The cause is under investigation, but the centre has confirmed that it was caused by human activity and crews are on scene.

Currently, the long-range forecast is calling for an average fire season and MacPherson is hopeful the season will start “well-hydrated as we go back to seasonal weather. Typically June is cooler and wet and it holds us through the dryer months.”

RELATED: Wildfire burning in remote area near Gold River

As the unusually warm temperatures are set to change to more seasonal conditions, the centre is welcoming rain that is predicted to blanket the area for the next week.

“Right now, we don’t have any (fire) prohibitions in place. People might be surprised how dry it is. We’re asking people in the spring to be very careful – that means if you do have a fire, you ensure you have a means of putting it out, keeping it small and in control, if it’s windy you put it out, and when you leave, the area is cold to the touch – that’s the key. If you just put water on a fire it quickly gets evaporated and you can’t just walk away.”

Looking towards the summer, McPherson added the centre is aware that more people will likely be recreating outdoors due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. She encourages as many people to enjoy the outdoors but to do it safely.

“We understand getting to a forest is good for your soul. There are a lot of reservations in parks and they are often full, and there is naturally spillover onto Crown land.”

She hopes more people will enjoy the forest this summer, but cautions if using fire, to be careful and respectful. As the forest begins to dry out, the very thing people are enjoying can be the very thing putting people at risk, she noted. With warmer weather set to arrive in the next few months, more crews will also come online.

“We’re very aware of the weather, and we’re asking the public not to give a fire a home run.”

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