The Delta fire department is taking steps to decrease fire risk this summer, after a Surrey townhouse blaze impacted 10 North Delta homes earlier this month.
Deputy chiefs Brad Wilson and Dave Wood brought an update on the July 5 fire to council on Monday, following a debrief with the department the previous week.
According to Wilson, the fire stretched the department to the limits of its staff. Every Delta firefighter and truck available was in North Delta, and many were on scene all night.
“Our guys were exhausted,” Wilson said. “We had basically one truck dealing with two houses. It was just jumping from one to the other.”
The incident started around 1 a.m. on Thursday, July 5, when a Surrey townhouse development caught fire. (An investigation into the cause of the fire was inconclusive; Surrey RCMP continue to investigate.)
Because the complex was still under construction and didn’t have any fire prevention equipment installed in the homes, the fire grew and spread quickly.
Delta firefighters were called in to help the Surrey fire department deal with the flames. However, because the buildings were largely constructed out of wood and sheathed in Tyvek (a polyethylene wrap commonly used to protect buildings during construction), large embers floated away from the main fire and crossed Scott Road.
“That Tyvek is lightweight, it’s a lot lighter than tar paper,” Wood explained. “So it will float up into the air a lot more with the heat being produced by that fire. It also has a plastic-type property, so as it burns, it kind of drips.”
That’s probably why many residents saw embers in the air, dropping little balls of flame as they travelled, he said.
Counc. Jeannie Kanakos, who lives in the area, said during council that her and her husband went to Scott Road to see what was going on in Surrey.
“Literally as we stood on Scott Road, in front of our eyes, the cedar fence burst into flames,” she said.
Between 1 and 6:15 a.m., the Delta fire department was dispatched to 14 fires in North Delta and were notified of many others by neighbours at the scene. Later that afternoon, the department was called to a related fire that had started in Watershed Park, and at 6:45 p.m. was called to a second, related fire on the other side of Highway 91.
A total of 10 homes were damaged on the North Delta side.
Wilson noted that the Delta police were integral in the evacuation efforts in the area, and other local fire departments provided much needed aid to the overworked department.
Wilson also said that local residents played an important part in helping the department keep the fires at bay. Many residents helped hold the fire hoses as the firefighters went from one incident to the next. Others did what they could to keep fires at bay until the department could get there.
“Damage was kept to a minimum through fast action, quick decision-making and tireless effort from everyone involved,” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, most of the significantly damaged North Delta homes had cedar shake roofs, something Kanakos asked about during the council presentation. Although this type of roof is more susceptible to fire, Wilson said, residents can help reduce the risk by making sure debris is cleared off their roofs regularly.
Kanakos also asked about the safety of Watershed Park, which is bordered by many residential homes and is “tinder dry” during the hot summer months.
Wilson, who grew up in the Sunshine Woods area, said the park is a fire risk, but their new equipment and time-tested practices have kept the park safe.
“I don’t know if we’ve been really lucky. I don’t want to say that,” he said. “I would say that we just have got to try and be careful and monitor what’s going on in our own backyards. That’s probably our best defence.”
However, Kanakos believes something more needs to be done to protect the park, as concern is continuing to increase in the neighbourhood.
“It’s mounting because of climate change,” she said. “It’s different now, and I think we may need to look at it differently.”
Wilson said the department will be sending out booklets on fire prevention to North Delta households in the area, which will outline some steps that residents can take to ensure their properties are not a fire hazard. The department will also be hosting a public open house in the fall.
Given that the original fire started in a construction site, Wilson noted the Delta fire department has looked at the city’s own construction sites. Currently, all Delta’s construction sites are using best fire-safe practices, he said, and are using after-hours security personnel to monitor the sites outside of working hours.