The smoke and ash enveloping the Parksville Qualicum Beach region these past few days is from three blazes in the Coastal Fire Region, two on the Island and one on the Sunshine Coast.
Weather patterns and eye witness accounts suggest most of the smoke and ash here is coming from a forest fire just two kilometres outside Sechelt, roughly 50 kilometres as the gull flies across the Salish Sea.
An air quality advisory has been issued for this region by the Ministry of Environment. Real time air quality information in B.C. is available at www.bcairquality.ca.
“The Ministry of Environment in collaboration with Island Health has issued a Wildfire Smoke Advisory for the east and south coast of Vancouver Island from Campbell River to Victoria, including the interior community of Port Alberni, because of forest fire smoke that is affecting most areas,” said the advisory. “Smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change. This situation is expected to persist until meteorological conditions change. Avoid strenuous outdoor activities. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact your health care provider: difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. Exposure is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and lung or heart disease.”
The fire burning Sunday closest to Parksville Qualicum Beach was the Dog Mountain fire above the shores of Sproat Lake near Port Alberni. According to the B.C. Wildfire Branch, that fire was at 35 hectares (about 86 acres). Seasonal cabins were evacuated on Saturday. The fire is on steep terrain and as of Sunday afternoon had 21 firefighters and three helicopters on site.
Parksville-based crews from the B.C. Wildfire Service are part of the battle against the Tsulquate River fire near Port Hardy. It was at
17 ha Sunday night and an evacuation order, put in place for dozens or residents on Saturday, was lifted Sunday. Many residents of Port Hardy remain on evacuation alert.
The Old Sechelt Mine fire was at 80 ha Monday morning and the Sunshine Coast Regional District issued an evacuation alert for 18 seasonal residences. According to the Sunshine Coast RCMP, a 61-year-old man from nearby Gibsons was killed Sunday while assisting with firefighting efforts.
People in Sechelt — and many in Parksville Qualicum Beach — awoke Sunday and Monday morning to a layer of ash on their vehicles, driveways and houses.
The continued hot, dry, conditions have also put much of Vancouver Island, including Parksville, at a Level 4 drought rating and forced officials to ban any kind of burning throughout the province. The forecast calls for high temperatures ranging from 25-31 degrees through Friday, with no rain expected.
The province announced Level 4 drought conditions for Vancouver Island on Friday and took the additional action of suspending angling in streams and rivers throughout southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands due to ongoing low stream flows and warming water temperatures.
“At Level 4, conditions are extremely dry,” said a news release from the province. “Further declines in stream, lake and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and affect people, industry such as agriculture, wildlife, and fish stocks. All water users are urged to maximize their water conservation efforts.”
The City of Parksville was at Level 3 for watering restrictions as of Monday afternoon but city officials said they were considering a move to Level 4. At Level 4, residents are not allowed to water at any time — it’s a comprehensive watering ban. At Level 3, watering is allowed every other day for two hours a day (one hour at a time) between 6-10 a.m. and 6-10 p.m.
The Regional District of Nanaimo has closed the Arrowsmith CPR Regional Trail that runs from Cameron Lake up to the old Arrowsmith ski hill. Hikers looking to climb Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Cokely are advised that the private logging roads which provide access to the back country have all been shut by the landowner. The RDN is also reminding people there is no smoking permitted at this time in any RDN park or trail.