Our View: Only you can prevent local fires

Smokey Bear is worried about making sure you don’t burn down the woods, but wildfires don’t need a whole forest to get going.

It’s dry out there, and about to get drier and hotter with a heat wave expected to start as soon as this weekend. Every year, firefighters spend a lot of their time dealing with what can only be called stupid fires – fires started through simple, careless ignorance.

Cigarette butts are still the main cause of these fires, butts tossed onto dry grass or bark mulch on medians and in parks. The smoker can walk away and nothing seems to happen, sometimes for hours or days. But the fire can smolder, burrowing underground and biding its time. Then there’s the puff of smoke, and if we’re lucky, the fire department gets a call when that’s all it is.

There have been some serious fires in the Lower Mainland in recent years, including in 1996 and 2005 in Burns Bog. The smoldering fires claimed 170 hectares and 200 hectares of land respectively. Numerous small brush fires have struck in other suburban areas around Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

In Langley Township in the summer of 2010, about 20 acres was burned along the Trans Canada Highway, threatening nearby homes, barns, and livestock.

The cause was likely a cigarette tossed from a car.

Other communities north of the Fraser River have to worry about interface fires – blazes that start in the forest and then march towards residential areas.

If the drier, hotter summers we’ve experienced recently are the result of global warming, we will only see conditions primed for fires more frequently in the future.

That will place an even larger burden on us to be cautious with fire. Learn about your local rules for outdoor burning before you put a match to the bonfire or fire pit. Put out that cigarette somewhere safe. And keep an eye out for those telltale puffs of smoke coming from the vacant lots, the medians, and the backyards.

– M.C.

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