Even Vancouver is at risk for an out-of-control brush fire, say officials

Stanley Park and the Vancouver skyline are seen from above in spring 2019. (Pete Cline / CTV News Vancouver)

Vancouver fire officials are warning that even in a big city like Vancouver, the risk of an out-of-control brush fire is high.

The warning, which came Saturday morning from Vancouver Fire Services captain Jonathan Gormick, describes the city’s fire danger level as “high” and warns residents not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

“A brush fire could become out of control in minutes, threatening structures and life,” Gormick said in a news release.

Cigarette butts are a particular concern, and if a single butt meets dry grass, Vancouver could be in for a big fire.

“Little is needed to ignite grass, brush, or any other organic matter, and that once lit, fires will spread rapidly and grow exponentially,” Gormick said.

While Vancouver may seem at less risk than other towns or cities that are bordered by large natural areas, the city’s extensive park systems, green spaces, trees and plant life mean it's still at risk. And, after a prolonged, dry spring and above-average temperatures, that vegetation is dry and vulnerable.

The warning comes after a dangerous heat wave saw multiple hot weather records broken across B.C., and as multiple areas of the province are under evacuation orders or warnings due to wildfires. It also comes after the entire town of Lytton was destroyed by a devastating fire.

Many different things could lead to an out-of-control fire in Vancouver, say officials, and all outdoor fires are banned.

“The heat from combustion-powered devices such as pressure washers and generators could easily ignite nearby material, and outdoor fires of any kind are prohibited year-round,” Gormick said.

But, the most significant risk is from cigarette butts, which cause “almost 100 per cent of Vancouver’s outdoor fires.”

To that end, Vancouver Fire Services is reminding people not to throw cigarette butts into the bushes, onto the ground, or into a planter, and that smoking is prohibited in all City of Vancouver parks.

“The risk from butts thrown from vehicles is significant, and since 2017 has been punishable with a $500 fine. Always place butts in approved containers.”