A Chilliwack Fire Department crew douses cedar hedges on fire in the early hours of May 5, 2019 at Edwards Street and Bernard Avenue. (Erik Hunter Nachtigahl photo)

Discarded cigarette butts causing several fires in Chilliwack

‘Significant increase in the number of fires occurring in landscaping bark mulch’

Erik Nachtigahl was riding his bike on the Yale Road overpass in the early hours of May 5 when he saw a plume of smoke and flames coming from a property to west along Bernard Avenue.

He had his camera with him so he raced to the scene, arriving at about the same time as Chilliwack Fire Department crews.

Tall cedar hedges were ablaze on what was, luckily, an empty lot at the corner of Bernard and Edward Street.

Cedar hedges after an early morning fire on May 5 at Edwards Street and Bernard Avenue. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

It’s uncertain if the cause of the fire was accidental or intentional but what is likely is that the current dry, hot conditions contributed to this fire and other minor conflagrations in landscaping around the city in recent days.

“The Chilliwack Fire Department has seen a significant increase in the number of fires occurring in landscaping bark mulch, which can be dangerous due to how close it often is to homes and businesses,” according to Asst. Chief Mike Bourdon in a statement issued this week. “Below average rainfall, warm temperatures, dry conditions and wind all increase the risk of serious damage from bark mulch fires.”

During the hot summer months, fire crews are often called to grass and bark mulch fires in medians, most of which are caused by cigarette butts tossed by drivers.

At least twice in two days this week fire crews were called to bark mulch fires in one median near where Vedder Road meets Yale Road north of Highway 1.

“The improper disposal or littering of smoking materials is one of the leading causes of fire in Chilliwack. As the weather gets warmer and conditions remain dry, we would like to remind people to properly dispose of smoking materials in order to help reduce the risk of fire.”

According to Chilliwack Fire Department statistics from 2018, smoking materials caused 11 per cent of structure fires causing a monetary loss were caused by smokers’ materials. The leading cause at 25 per cent was electrical. Arson was the second leading cause of structure fires at 23 per cent. Combustibles too close to heat caused 19 per cent.

The fire department also wants to remind residents about 2015’s Outdoor Public Spaces Smoking Regulation Bylaw.

“This bylaw prohibits smoking in our parks, trails, playing fields, dog parks and other outdoor public areas.

“Please ensure you properly dispose of smoking materials. Do not throw out cigarettes into vegetation, potted plants or landscaping, peat moss, dried grasses, bark mulch, leaves or similar items as they can easily catch fire.”

Anyone who does spot a fire anywhere is asked to call 911.

The hot, dry conditions currently in place across much of B.C. started especially early this year. An unusually dry March led to dozens of grass fires, all caused by people.

• READ MORE: Unusually dry March leads to dozens of grass fires in B.C.

B.C.’s chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek warned that many people just aren’t careful enough this time of year. Discarded cigarettes and campfires left burning are two of the most common causes of grass fires, but heat from the exhaust pipes of off-road vehicles can also spark grass fires.

A month ago, Skrepnek told Black Press that officials were hoping for a rainy May to help calm the wildfire season. But so far, May has seen very little rain.

The immediate forecast for Chilliwack is sunny with a high of 28C for Friday and 26C on Saturday. Temperatures should drop slightly into next week still with no chance of showers until next Thursday.

Thursday’s high in Chilliwack was 28.8C, according to Roger Pannett, volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada. That was a record for May 9 beating the previous record for a May 9 from 1987 when it hit 27.5C.

• READ MORE: Warm weather smashes records along B.C.’s south coast, with more sun to come


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Cedar hedges after an early morning fire on May 5 at Edwards Street and Bernard Avenue. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

(Erik Hunter Nachtigahl photo)

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