03 August 2009

Vigilance called for in public parks with extreme fire risk

By Kimberly Shearon, The ProvinceAugust 3, 2009 11:01 AM

As wildfires devour B.C.'s tinder-dry forests — and in the wake of four deliberately set fires in Stanley Park over the last few days — Vancouver residents are reminded to be mindful while enjoying the city's parks.

"We have to be so vigilant, especially today with the temperatures rising so much," said Vancouver park-board commissioner Stuart MacKinnon on Monday.

An "extreme" fire rating is in effect in the city's parks. This means smoking — as well as the use of charcoal and wood-burning barbecues — is prohibited on park grounds. Visitors must also stay on established trails.

Propane and gas barbecues are still permitted, but they must be elevated above the ground.

All it takes is an improperly extinguished cigarette to ignite a parched park, fire experts warn.

"It's not so much, I think, people deliberately setting fires, [it's] more forgetfulness," MacKinnon said.

Not only are the trees above the ground dry, but so is the ground below. When this ready supply of dry fuels combines with scorching temperatures, it creates an environment where brush fires can quickly spin out of control.

While Vancouverites might feel far removed from wildfires in other regions of the province, a very real risk still exists close to home, MacKinnon said: "People, please use common sense."

He said he still sees people using charcoal and wood-burning barbecues in local parks, even with the ban in place. He has also noted cigarette butts littering park trails and grassy areas.

"Some ash flying away can light fires. We ask people, 'Please respect the rules.'"

MacKinnon has seen firsthand the destruction a wildfire can wreak. When he was a child, a massive wildfire chewed through Manning Park. It took years for the park to recover.

He said he would hate to see the same thing happen at Stanley Park.

"It would be such a tragedy for the whole city and for the world. To have it go up in flames would be heartbreaking," he said.

"It would be something we'd have to live with for years and years and years. As we saw from the wind storm a few years ago, nature takes its time to replace damage."

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