Local fire departments bracing for a long season of grass and mulch fires

The Saanich Fire Department has seen 20 grass fires so far this year, while the Victoria Fire Department has seen 23 mulch fires.

With unseasonably warm temperatures, dry weather and lack of moisture, local fire departments are bracing for a long season of grass and mulch fires.

“With the way things are right now, things are really dry out there. Our hazard rating in Greater Victoria, certainly in Saanich, is at high and that means the surface fuels are very dry. So grass fires are very easy ignited,” said Capt. Richard Pala of the Saanich Fire Department.

The fire department responded to 59 grass fires in 2014. So far this year, they’ve seen 20 grass fires — 14 of which were in May and three already in June.

The main culprit: cigarette butts.

“People go out and have a smoke break and in two hours it’s gone from smouldering to flaming,” said Pala, noting that many of the fires occurred in front of businesses such as gas stations, offices or bus stops.

“This year, we’ve hit that really dry weather earlier. The things that have been drying out over the previous months have really lost their moisture content.”

Broken glass, which can also magnify the rays of the sun, are also cause for concern.

The Victoria Fire Department has also seen a significant increase in the number of mulch fires.

From January to June of this year, crews have responded to 23 mulch fires, almost double the amount they had the previous year.

“With the exceedingly dry conditions, they can start with something as simple as a cigarette butt being carelessly discarded to someone deliberately setting it with a match or a lighter,” said Doug Carey, deputy chief with the Victoria Fire Department.

He noted that it takes a minimum of one fire truck and four firefighters to respond to a mulch or grass fire.

With the warm weather set to continue, Victoria and Saanich fire departments are asking the public to be diligent outside.

The number one way to reduce the risk of grass and mulch fires is to properly discard cigarette butts or make sure they’re completely out before walking away, and properly discarding glass jars or bottles.

For property owners, they suggest keeping lawns cut reasonably low and clearing yards of leaves that may have collected.

“Be aware that we’re in extreme drought conditions in the Greater Victoria area. We’ve just come through the driest May on record and we’re setting up for a very dry June. Please be diligent with your use of parks and recreational areas,” said Carey.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations also issued a Level 3 drought condition, urging residents to reduce their water consumption.