While wildfires aren’t common in Esquimalt and Victoria, both fire departments are doing what they can to mitigate the risks for the coming dry season.
Esquimalt Fire Chief Chris Jancowski says one of the best ways to prevent wildfires or “interface fires” – which are basically grass fires but more likely within city limits – is through human action and awareness.
Jancowski adds that by not participating in high hazard sports that would bring sparks into the outdoors, preparing your home by reducing some of the combustible fuels you may have laying around, cleaning out your eaves troughs and making sure you mostly have “low laying vegetation” around your house are all good ways to prevent fires during the summer.
“Typically we have a low to medium risk depending on the time of year and depending on what area you’re looking at exactly,” he says, adding that areas such as Highrock Park are more prone to fire. “The other thing here that we have a challenge with is in the hot summer afternoons … we see the winds pick up, typically from the ocean and that affects grass material.”
In Esquimalt, Jancowski says there are a lot of natural fire breaks as well that aid firefighting during the season with roads, streets and developments changing the landscape. “If there were a grass fire, for example, it would typically run up a street but as soon as it hits the end of the street, as long as there’s not a house that’s poorly defendable we’d be able to grab that fire at the next street.”
Paul Bruce, chief of the Victoria Fire Department, says a lot of what the department does in Victoria doesn’t really change throughout the year although they do send firefighters to other municipalities to help with wildfires if need be.
“Every summer we’ve gotten in the last few years has seemed to bring its own little events, so the concern is probably just the unknown of what this summer is going to bring. I’m sure that’s shared by a lot of people in regards to COVID,” he says. “It’s almost like a ‘what’s next’ scenario.”
Since the pandemic hit, firefighters have had to change their operations drastically. The most notable of ways says Bruce is “if we don’t have to be in contact with people, we’re trying not to be.”
While the pandemic has people staying inside, Jancowski says that might benefit this year’s dry season with fewer people participating in “bad habits of smoking in parks,” but it also adds to some of his concerns.
“If there’s a small campfire or a natural fire from a lightning strike, we count on the public to detect those early and report them to 911 so we can get onto those fires quicker – so it’s a double-edged sword,” he says.