Third wildfire in a week burns over Alberni Inlet

Eric Plummer, August 10, 2018

Helicopters hovered over the Arbutus Summit fire Friday in an effort to contain the blaze. (Eric Plummer photo)

Port Alberni — 

This week proved to be a busy one for wildfire fighters in the Alberni Valley, as on Friday crews battled the third blaze recently discovered in the area.

The Heavily forested Arbutus Summit burned over the Alberni Inlet early in the morning on Aug. 10, after first being discovered at midnight. By 3 a.m. Friday flames atop the ridge were brightly visible from Port Alberni, which developed into a five-hectare fire by late morning. Response came from helicopters an initial attack ground crew of three from the BC Wildfire Service, plus support from the Port Alberni Fire Department.

The Arbutus Summit wildfire was preceded by a blazed on the Beaufort Range on the other side of the Alberni Valley. First discovered on Tuesday, Aug. 7, the active Beaufort fire has grown to 10 hectares.

Suppression efforts came from 11 BC Wildfire Service personnel, plus members of the Cherry Creek Fire Department.

“It’s within our jurisdiction; it’s not within their jurisdiction, so they’re an assisting agency with us today,” said Donna MacPherson, a fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service, of the Cherry Creek firefighters.

West of Port Alberni, the Turtle Lake fire emerged on Monday, Aug. 6. By Wednesday morning the fire by Turtle Lake was no longer listed as active by the provincial wildfire service. All three fires are believed to be caused by people due to the lack of lightning in the area.

“We really need people to smarten up when they’re out there in the forest,” said MacPherson. “These fires are challenging crews as they arrive on site to keep them very small.”

The rash of wildfires within a short period of time has led some in the Alberni Valley to suspect the possibility of someone intentionally starting the blazes. On the popular Port Alberni Facebook site AV Chatterbox, Tseshaht Councillor Hugh Braker encouraged the First Nation’s members to track any vehicles they see coming from the surrounding wilderness.

“The evidence is mounting that we have a firebug or firebugs in the valley,” he posted. “I ask all Tseshaht to report any suspicious activity. If you see a vehicle coming out of the bush, record the licence, date and time and location. If it is innocent, no harm done. But it may end up being the tip needed in case of a fire.”

Dorothy Jacobson, a fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said that provincial investigations into a wildfire look into any evidence of the cause.

“We have very experienced, highly skilled investigators who go out and take evidence immediately,” she said. “What they’ll be looking for is the origin of the fire and the cause. Then if there is any contravention of the Wildfire Act involved there may be charges laid, there may be court cases. It may take a couple of years.” 

Meanwhile, the 179-hectare Nanaimo Lakes fire continues to burn on the east side of Vancouver Island, prompting the provincial government to issue an evacuation order for the rural area south of the mid-island city. With 55 firefighters and three helicopters working to control the blaze, Nanaimo Lakes is still considered “out of control” by the BC Wildfire Service.

Hot and dry conditions have brought most of Vancouver Island to an “extreme” fire danger rating, according to the BC Wildfire Service. The Alberni Valley’s plus-30-Celsius temperatures dropped on Friday, but a thunderstorm could accompany some rain in the forecast over the weekend, said MacPherson.

“We’re going to get more wind, we may get lightning, and precipitation is going to be spotty, so we don’t need to go into the weekend with these kinds of fires taking resources away from the ones that we need to respond to at that time,” she said.