COLUMN: Fire threat hits close to home

Burns Bog blaze a reminder to all how quickly an emergency situation can arise.

The destructive Burns Bog fire, which went from a small grass burn on Sunday to a 78-hectare uncontrolled forest and brush conflagration in a matter of days, is a strong reminder of the potency of fire.

Smoke was visible over most of the Lower Mainland Sunday afternoon. Fire crews from various parts of the province, including wildfire specialists, were called in. Water bombers and helicopters were used. One Vancouver radio station went off the air after its transmitter site was burned.

Most of Tilbury Industrial Park, adjacent to Burns Bog, was evacuated as a precaution, and as of Monday morning, several businesses were still under evacuation orders. Highway 17 between Highways 91 and 99 was closed Sunday evening. It only reopened on Wednesday, when the bog fire became 100 per cent contained.

Many Canadians were again reminded just how destructive fire can be when the Fort McMurray wildfire occurred in early May.

Thousands of people lost their homes and many barely escaped with their lives, as the shifting winds (also a factor in Delta’s blaze) pushed the fire into areas that were thought to be safe. A total of 2,400 buildings were burned.

The entire community was evacuated. It will take years for all the damage caused by the Fort Mac fire to be repaired, and for many people, their lives will never be the same. Thankfully, no one was killed.

Back in 2003, similar destruction took place in Barriere and, most notably, in Kelowna, where hundreds of homes were consumed in a raging wildfire.

People who live in the Lower Mainland may feel insulated from wildfire, but that is only partially true. While most people do not live adjacent to large forested areas (with some significant exceptions), the damage that an uncontrolled fire can do in an urban area is massive, and it can happen quickly. Fort McMurray is the most powerful example of that.

In Delta, Tilbury Industrial Park houses hundreds of businesses from large to small. The collective investment in those businesses is undoubtedly in the billions of dollars. Those businesses employ thousands of people. All that could be destroyed by a raging uncontrolled fire and the Burns Bog fire proves that while it may be unlikely, it is not impossible.

Fire officials constantly stress the dangers of lighting even small backyard and grass fires, particularly when the weather is dry. This huge fire, which started as a grass fire, is proof that their warnings are realistic and reasonable.

Stories from the United States about fires caused by stray fireworks, lit in celebration of the July 4 Independence Day, are also a good reminder of why they also warn about use of fireworks. It’s good that it has become difficult to buy fireworks in this area – the risk is simply too high, to say nothing of the potential danger to individuals.

Delta Fire Department, Delta Police and emergency officials from other parts of the region have their hands full in dealing with this fire before it was finally under control on Wednesday.

However, as past fires in Burns Bog have demonstrated, the fire may be out on the surface but still burning beneath the surface in the peat. There have been innumerable examples of this over the past 50 years, and often fires that start in the summer months last until winter.

Burns Bog is a precious jewel in the Lower Mainland. However, it will always be at risk.

This week’s fire is a good reminder to all of us to be careful and to be prepared for a sudden emergency.

Thanks to all the crews who worked so hard on this fire.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.


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