It is ironic that the day after Port Alberni’s fire chief outlines a request from the provincial government for the city’s fire department to offer initial attack services in case of forest fires, numerous lightning strikes ignited tinder-dry areas in the Beaufort Range.
The fire department was slammed with calls just after 11 a.m. including a fire at Catalyst Paper and multiple alarms activated on Sixth Avenue after power line insulators were hit. An extremely visible forest fire atop Arbutus Ridge, across Alberni Canal from Harbour Quay, prompted the first ‘initial attack’ call, as the PAFD was called.
(Helicopters flying for Island Timberlands extinguished the fire with bambi buckets of water and an initial attack crew dropped on site.)
While the forest fires prompted the ‘I told you so’ brigade to drag the missing Martin Mars waterbombers into the fray, the issue is so much bigger than an historic aircraft tugging at our collective heartstrings.
The response time once calls about the Arbutus Ridge fire lit up both the 911 and Coastal Fire Centre’s phone lines was less than an hour—impressive considering the weather and location.
Also extremely fortunate. If torrential rain hadn’t accompanied the thunderstorm, that small lightning strike could have ignited a far larger problem.
Forestry firefighting resources are stretched too thin. We are approaching a crisis in B.C. on the doorstep of the worst fire season in recent history.
Sitting on an island nautical miles away from resources is not a pleasant feeling. It’s time for the government to come up with an adequate plan for keeping our forests safe in fire season. Or at least minimizing the damage.