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Vehicle access remains for LAU,WELNEW/John Dean Park in North Saanich

Nearby residents worry about wildfire risks from vehicle sparks, discarded cigarettes
North Saanich currently rates the fire danger in the municipality as high, but the municipality has no fire concerns with vehicle access to LAU,WELNEW/John Dean Provincial Park, despite concerns from nearby residents. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

A North Saanich resident wants the province to close LAU,WELNEW/John Dean Provincial Park amidst concerns that sparks from vehicles and discarded cigarettes could set off a wildfire.

But both local and municipal officials have said the park will remain open to vehicles for now.

“We do not need a wildfire in John Dean Park,” said Luella Pedersen.“It will not only destroy the park and Dean Park Estates, but could also travel well down into other areas. North Saanich (and) Sidney will all be affected.”

Pedersen said she has counted multiple vehicles in the parking lot at the top of the mountain, adding that numerous cigarette butts have been strewn around. “Look at the statistics for how many fires are started by careless smokers,” she said.

As of Monday afternoon (July 5), BC Wildfire Service rated the fire danger around Dean Park as high but not extreme, while the tip of North Saanich has a rating of extreme.

Donna Macpherson, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, told the Peninsula News Review ratings capture shifting conditions. BC Wildfire Service currently rates southern Salt Spring Island as extreme.

“In the last few days, as that data (from weather stations) has been uploaded, that little pink (extreme) area that is sitting right over Salt Spring expands a little bit and it has at times included North Saanich,” she said. “Then, when we can go into the night time, it is cooler, it is more moist and it shrinks it a bit.”

A municipal sign near the park entrance rates the fire danger as extreme and bans burning of any kind. A provincial sign several metres away warns the public of a high fire danger and a permanent prohibition on smoking and outdoor burning.

This said, municipal and provincial officials appear comfortable with the gate being open.

“After several years piloting a vehicle closure at LAU,WELNEW/John Dean Provincial Park during periods of extreme fire risk, BC Parks, in consultation with the BC Wildfire Service and North Saanich Fire Department, has decided LAU,WELNEW/John Dean Provincial Park will remain open to vehicles unless directed to fully close the park by BC Wildfire Service due to an imminent wildfire threat,” the Ministry of Environment wrote in a statement.

ALSO READ: Light blanket of wildfire smoke to reach Island by Tuesday; no major events predicted

Closing the park to vehicles negatively impacts visitors with accessibility needs, as well as surrounding residential streets, the statement said.

“Other park agencies with similar types of forested parks in the area, including Parks Canada, the Capital Regional District and District of Saanich keep their parks open to vehicles during heightened fire risk.”

Rachel Dumas, North Saanich’s director of corporate services, said Fire Chief John Trelford has no fire concerns with leaving the gate open.

Macpherson does not expect improvements to the current wildfire danger rating on the Saanich Peninsula unless the weather changes.

“Each day we go without rain, the forest is not going to get any precipitation on it, and we are not seeing that until maybe the middle or end of this week,” she said.

Another factor is the influence of the sea-fog along the outer coast of Vancouver Island wraps around. “How far is it going to wrap around into your area?” she said. “The sea-fog brings humidity in the form of relative humidity.”

While some of the grass will be able to absorb moisture from that sea-fog (if present), the bigger tree won’t, said McPherson. “I wouldn’t expect this (fire danger) map to improve until we get rain. How much worse it is going to get is hard to say.”

RELATED: Fire near Mystic Beach area under control: BC Wildfire Service


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