Langley could be in for a long hot summer

It was most likely a lit cigarette tossed in the bush.

Just after noon on Monday, June 22, firefighters pulled up on 66th Avenue. To the west is James Anderson Learning Centre. To the east is a dense collection of townhouses climbing up the Willoughby slope. Sandwiched in between the two is a scrubby vacant lot, edged to the east with a paved walking path.

Someone probably went for a walk and dropped a butt, said Captain Morley Sagert of the Langley Township fire department.

“It’s easy just to flick it into the bush,” said Sagert.

Sagert and firefighters Rob Bisschop, Darren Duffil, and Jarod Horch arrived to find smoke coming from a log and nearby debris. A quick blast with the hose eliminated most of the smoke. To be certain the fire was out, the crew had to break out a chainsaw and axe to dismember the log. After blasting everything with water, they left again.

It’s far from the first small brush fire Township fire crews have dealt with this year. 

In fact, there have been 49 brush fire calls, and 54 burning complaints from the start of May to June 23, according to Township assistant fire chief Pat Walker.

With dry weather, both the brush fires and the illegal backyard fires are an issue.

“It’s definitely been a concern of the department,” Walker said.

By late June, the Township was often responding to multiple brush fire complaints each day. Most of them were quickly dealt with and rather small, and none have caused significant damage yet, Walker said.

But there is always the potential, which is why there is a zero tolerance policy for illegal fires, Walker said. A heat wave set to start this weekend and run through the week of Canada Day is only likely to make tinder-dry conditions worse.

According to the province’s Wildfire Management Branch, the entire Lower Mainland is at high risk for wildfires.

“Forest fuels are very dry and the fire risk is serious. New fires may start easily, burn vigorously, and challenge fire suppression efforts,” says the definition for high risk.

While Langley doesn’t have many large forested areas outside of some parks and ravines, it does have a lot of trees, vacant lots, back gardens, and planted medians covered in bark mulch.

For some, fires and smoke are a health issue as much as a safety one.

Jo Macleod doesn’t want to have to spend her summer with her doors and windows closed.

The Brookswood resident moved to Langley about 10 years ago. She has since been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a chronic lung condition.

When she has an attack, it feels like choking, Macleod said.

“You feel like you can’t catch your breath,” she said. Her lungs close up “like the fingers of a hand,” she said.

She has to use a puffer to keep her lungs open, and if she can’t control her condition that way, the next stage is to get an oxygen tank.

“I don’t want to get one of them,” Macleod said.

Macleod’s problem is that some people in her neighbourhood use fire pits or have back yard bonfires during the summer.

Despite all outdoor fires being banned at this time of year, they are still common throughout the rural and older suburban parts of the Township.

Macleod knows she could report fires to the Langley Township fire department, but in general she doesn’t want to damage her relationships with otherwise friendly, nice neighbours.

She has spoken to a few of them privately about her medical condition and asked them to stop burning.

One of the problems seems to be that new people sometimes move in and assume they’re out in the country and can now have a fire in their yard.

“There’s absolutely no fires permitted,” said Walker.

The Township, as it has for years, is pursuing a zero-tolerance policy against anyone starting a backyard fire, whether a bonfire or in a firepit.

The fine is $200.

Some people are reluctant to phone in tips about fires.

“We don’t release the caller’s information,” Walker said. “It’s strictly confidential.”

Only propane and charcoal briquette barbecues are allowed in the Township, and fire pits are banned.

brush fires
Firefighters Darren Duffil, left, and Jarod Horch, right, with Capt. Morley Sagert, doused another small brush fire in Langley on June 22. Township crews are getting multiple brush fire calls a day. – Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance

On Thursday Environment Canada issued a special weather warning for this region

Special weather statement in effect for:

  • Fraser Valley – east including Chilliwack

  • Fraser Valley – west including Abbotsford

Major heat wave over Southern British Columbia this weekend.

High temperatures will increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.

An exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure will build over Western Canada this Friday and Saturday allowing hot air to invade Southern BC. Temperatures are expected to approach 40 degrees over the Southern Interior and the low thirties along the South Coast. The highest temperatures are expected Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon. Several daily temperature records are likely to fall with the possibility of monthly records falling come the end of June.

A weak weather disturbance moving onshore Sunday evening will bring the chance of thunderstorms over the South Coast. High cloud ahead of the system may decrease the temperatures slightly Sunday afternoon. A slight cooling trend will begin Monday however the unseasonably hot weather will persist through Canada day.

For more information on heat-related illness visit HTTP://WWW.HEALTHLINKBC.CA/HEALTHFILES/HFILE35.STM.

For the latest temperature forecasts specific to your location, please visit Environment Canada’s website at www.weather.gc.ca.

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