Campfires, discarded cigarettes still an issue

Suspected butt causes blaze inside Lost Lake tree

Despite recent rain, Whistler firefighters are still patrolling the valley on the lookout for illegal campfires.

While the precipitation over the weekend was enough to lower the danger rating to moderate, the warm weather that followed quickly turned the needle back up to the high rating before bouncing back to extreme.

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“We’re doing better, but as it dries out again (the rating) comes back up really quickly,” said Assistant Fire Chief Chris Nelson. “The rain doesn’t get down to the forest floor through the canopy, even at the base of the trees the soil is ultra dry; it hasn’t reached down below the dust layer.

With the brief amount of rain that we’ve had, even with all the signage and information, people have been lulled into the false sense that they can (safely) have a campfire.”

The danger from campfires or discarded cigarette butts doesn’t necessarily come from those sources sparking an open flame.

Nelson explained that even if campfires or butts are put out with dirt, they can burn into the ground and draw enough oxygen from the soil around them to sustain the ember for days on end, without any visible flame. This exact scenario played out near
the rope swing at Lost Lake last week.

“There was no campfire there, but someone discarded some sort of burning material and they thought they had extinguished it,” said Nelson. “It burned down (into the soil), caught a root then travelled the length of that root to the base of a stump of a tree. It literally burned for days in there, literally off the side of the Valley Trail where thousands of people walk right by the rope swing. One of our fire captains said when they opened it up it looked like a pottery kiln. It was that hot.”

Firefighter patrols continue to monitor both visible campsites and areas that require a hike in to make sure they are covering all the areas frequented by campers and evening visitors. Patrols have found evidence of campfires lately and have been checking fire spots for any sub-terranean burning embers before destroying the pits. Attitudes from campers still seems to be positive despite the extended fire ban and recent rain.

“Campers have been respectful and are giving our teams the opportunity to reinforce the message,” said Nelson. “The other aspect is we’ve handed out a few water restriction (notices) and we’ve had the ability to contact residents regarding our observations about the water, not only about residential use but also for fire protection. It’s been very positive and we’ve received great response.”

Some new equipment that will help Whistler firefighters combat flames when protecting residences or buildings is four new FireBozz water cannons that Nelson said will create a “wall of water” to defend against encroaching fires. Crews will begin testing the new gear in the next few weeks.

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