Port Alberni Fire Department responded to a pair of small wildfires Monday night, July 12, bringing their eight-day count to 14 fires.
A paramedic at the BC Ambulance station on Roger Street spotted a small brush fire just before 7:30 p.m. next to the train tracks behind the Best Western Barclay Hotel Plus. The fire was beside a wooden platform called a “whistle stop” that was built for the Alberni Pacific Railway to receive passengers from the hotel when the tourist train was running.
Port Alberni Fire Department crews responded to the call to douse a fire approximately eight metres by eight metres (25 feet by 25 feet). “Crews were able to quickly get water onto the fire,” fire Chief Mike Owens said. About 1,000 gallons of water were used to suppress that fire.
At 9:10 p.m. they received multiple reports of smoke coming from Dry Creek near Anderson Avenue. “When crews arrived on scene there was a large column of smoke emitting from the area. Crews established a water supply and gained access to the area, which was on quite a steep slope.”
The fire was approximately 24 m by 24 m (80 feet by 80 feet) in a heavily forested area.
“It was burning quite brightly when crews arrived,” Owens said.
“It bordered an established trail at the top which aided us so we could manage it. The fire was “being held” by 10:30 p.m. Owens said Port Alberni RCMP also attended this fire and the fire department and RCMP will be jointly investigating how this particular one may have started.
Patrick Larrivée-Woods, who lives nearby, worries about conditions along the Dry Creek bluff. “People are constantly dumping yard waste down there; it’s a tinder box.”
(It is illegal to dump anything into the ravine; penalties range up to $2,000.)
He said neighbours often see traces of campfires left behind by people camping in the bush along Dry Creek, and it’s concerning. “Especially with the heat we’ve had. It has to be really dry.”
Owens said the fires they have been seeing recently are not yard waste-related. Some have been unattended campfires, but that isn’t the case with the latest Dry Creek fire.
“All of these are human-caused. There’s no reflectivity, there’s no lightning, so the only way for these to start is human caused.”
Crews cleared the Anderson Avenue site by 11 p.m. with a promise to return in the morning to mop up any lingering hot spots.
Owens said the message about extreme fire conditions is not getting through to people in Port Alberni.
“I feel like I’ve been issuing the same message every other day for a couple of weeks now that we really need people to be vigilant, that the bushes are tinder dry. But that message doesn’t seem to be resonating, as we continue to have fires—sometimes multiple fires a day.”
Fire crews responded to six fires on Sunday, July 4, one in Cherry Creek on July 9, another fire in Dry Creek Park on July 10 near the horseshoe pitch at the Fourth Avenue entrance, four on July 11 and tonight’s blazes.
“We’ve been responding to too many lately.”
If you see a column of smoke call 911 and report it, or if you’re outside city limits call *5555 and report it.