May 10, 2016 9:15 pm
Updated: May 10, 2016 11:01 pm

Dry forest conditions in BC cause for concern

WATCH: The Fort McMurray wildfire is raising new concerns about whether British Columbia officials are doing enough to prevent a similar disaster here. Randene Neill reports.

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It’s still early May, but B.C.’s forests are already dryer than normal and that’s causing concern for officials in the Coastal Fire Centre.

“We don’t think people realize how dry it is,” says Fire Information Officer Donna MacPherson. “Our local fire behaviour people say our forests are two weeks ahead for this time of year… We’ve had 21 fires in the Coastal region so far this year. Normally we have about 12. All of the fires are human-caused, and they’re all preventable.”

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At West Vancouver’s Whytecliff Park, cigarette butts and campfire ashes are scattered everywhere despite bans. West Vancouver Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Bush says out of 28 forest fires in West Vancouver last summer, 27 were started by discarded cigarettes.

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“I don’t think people comprehend how powerful fire is and how quickly it can get out of hand,” Bush said.

At this time last year, only eight square kilometres in B.C. had been scorched. This year, more than 400 square kilometres have already burned, mostly in the Peace region. But conditions throughout the province are dry enough it could happen anywhere.

“I’m hoping that people see what happened in Fort McMurray can happen here,” Bush says. “We live in a forest, but we have to take the human element out of accidental forest fires. So please be responsible for discarding smoking material.”

Another incentive to get people to follow the rules are tougher fines. The province increased wildfire-related fines in April. Discarding a cigarette without properly extinguishing it will now cost offenders $575. The cost of not complying with fire restrictions has tripled to $1,150.

Currently, there are no open fire or campfire bans across the province, but the Coastal Fire Centre is looking at imposing bans soon, possibly in time for this weekend. Officials suggest you check their website at www.bcwildfire.ca.

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