To begin, we would like to recognize the long dedicated service of Pender Harbour Fire Chief, Don Murray who passed away on 28 May, 2022. Don had been with the Pender Harbour Volunteer Fire Service for more than 30 years.
We are indebted to all who work to protect the public against fire.
Wildfires and the BC FireSmart Program
Even though our Spring weather may seem particularly long, cold and very wet and include monsoon-like downpours, our “Rain Forest” climate can quickly yield to prolonged Summer periods of surprisingly hot and dry weather. Within days, vegetation and forest floor debris can become dry and easily combustible, the stuff of wildfires.
The word “wildfire” has likely caused many to run mental clips from copius news videos of major wildfires in the past couple of years, which well serves the purpose of this webpage: to motivate you to prepare your property and your family to meet the threat of our Sunshine Coast wildfire seasons.
The wildfire threat on the Sunshine Coast is acknowledged to be relatively low compared to the threat level routinely faced by the BC Interior, northern Alberta, northern California and many other far flung locations where higher temperatures, lower humidity and more frequent lightning storms prevail. Records show that, during the past 100 years, the Sunshine Coast has had an average of 1.8 major wildfires per year. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has hiked to the top of Pender Hill on a hot day in July or August. Dried moss crunches underfoot and the air feels “hot oven” dry and smells like turpentine.
Many of us will recall the July 23, 2008 wildfire on the east face of Pender Hill which, it was alleged, was initiated by teenagers who, lit fireworks near the peak of Pender Hill. It was reported by the Harbour Spiel that: "One of the teens was treated for smoke inhalation on the scene after he tried to put the fire out." Subsequently, the fire was fought for two days by two helicopters and four Conair Firecat airtankers from Abbotsford - and, perhaps because the fire was so valiantly and effectively fought and extinguished, it was not classified as a “major wildfire”.
So, with a mere 1.8 major wildfires on the Sunshine Coast per year, is it still worth being informed and being prepared? Definitely.
Good news: a program called “FireSmart” has been developed by the The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC). The following short video,“Fives things to know about the FireSmart Assessment Program” will get you orientated.
In a most commendable demonstration that various levels of government can work together successfully, we now have access to a very impressive “British Columbia FireSmart Begins at Home Manual”. To access this manual, at any time in our library click the button. To go to the manual on line, click the manual cover image below:
The "FireSmart" Manual:
- opens with some very telling aerial photos of wildfires burning towards a town and some rural dwellings (one of which might look like your house),
- tells us the benefits of a wildfire (there are some - as you may be aware),
- describes the mechanics of a wildfire,
- and then informs us how we can help our home’s chances of surviving a wildfire.
You will already know much of the information in the Manual - but it makes a great review, and might make you aware of some things that you had not yet thought of that would make your home safer, like boxing in the sides of a low deck so as to slow the progress of embers and flames moving under the deck. Another suggestion is to remove spare propane tanks from a spot adjacent to your BBQ to a safer storage area. One never ending Job Jar item is disposing of garden debris and the scrap lumber that is inevitably left over after your most recent building project. The friendly staff at the Pender Harbour Transfer Station will accept this “wildfire fuel” and you will feel good to be rid of it.
You will also find suggestions that may be non-starters. The Manual is very “thumbs down” on having coniferous trees within Zone 1 ( out to 10m from the house) but many of us have some favourite conifers well within this range. Similarly, wooden siding is rated as undesirable and many of us would build using different materials if we chose to start over.
The manual recommends that you pack a “Wildfire Go Bag” (looks a lot like an “Earthquake Go Bag”) for each family member. Put the bags and a flat of bottled water in the car (which should have almost a full tank of gas and be facing outbound in the driveway). Why? Because just the right (wrong?) wildfire in our area could make things really exciting. And even if an orderly departure from our little corner of the Coast (basically a large cul-de-sac) is possible, you’re likely going to be living in your car somewhere near Langdale or Earls Cove for quite a bit longer than the standard BC Ferries “slight delay”.
Additional support from the Sunshine Coast Regional District was described in a March 28, 2022, news release, announcing that SCRD is onboard with FireSmart and also offers a brand new Alert System known as “Voyent Alert” that could be a real lifeline. Voyent Alert is a multi-purpose communication service used to send alerts to residents, businesses, and visitors on the Sunshine Coast during critical events like earthquakes, fires or floods.
HOW TO REGISTER for VOYENT ALERT:
Registration for Voyent Alert on all of the Sunshine Coast is FREE, simple and totally anonymous.
For Email, Text Message or Voice Call Alerts: Register online HERE.
For accurate alerting it is recommended that you use your civic address not your postal code, or click and drag the pin to the approximate location.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
Personalized Communications: Voyent Alert! provides informative communications. Critical information such as the distance and direction from an incident, time of intercept and preferred evacuation routes from your followed locations are provided.
Follow Multiple Locations: Voyent Alert! allows you to create and follow multiple locations such as “Kids School” or “Mom’s House”. Any event or communication related to your followed locations will be forwarded to you along your preferred communication channel.
No Message Fatigue: Voyent Alert’s smart alerting capabilities ensure that you will only get notified when a communication is relevant to you or one of the locations you are following.
Communications Your Way: Receive alerts over a wide variety of communication channels including mobile apps, text/SMS alerting, email or voice calling. You can register for all or one of them.
Privacy is Paramount: Registration is anonymous, and no information volunteered or derived is shared or used for marketing or data harvesting purposes. Locational information from your followed locations is only used to determine its proximity to an alert event and to provide critical context within the communications (such as distance and direction).
Leaving is Easy: Both mobile applications and web-based accounts provide access to an unsubscribe feature accessed via the menu icon on the top right of the screen/page. If the service isn’t working out simply click on the “Unsubscribe” button.
Interested? Just click here to go to the SCRD website and you can read more about the system and sign up if you wish.
Additionally, the following information is worth noting and comes from the office of the SCRD Emergency Management Co-ordinator:
THE BIGGEST CAUSE OF HOME FIRES IS THE SMALLEST ONE TO DETECT
Active wildfires move swiftly, and the most dangerous part is actually the smallest. Large flames roaring through a neighbourhood seem like the most deadly. They are definitely the most dramatic. But the more threatening part of the fire is silent and often about the size of a dime. The most common culprits of home fires are what come before the flames - the embers.
EMBERS WREAK WILDFIRE HAVOC.
70% of homes that burn in a wildfire are ignited by embers alone.
Embers can travel over two miles ahead of the actual fire which means your home can ignite even when flames aren’t present. They can be as small as a pinhead or as large as a flying piece of plyboard. No matter the size, a single ember can burn your house down. Ember showers can rain on homes for minutes or even hours, piling up around the property and blowing into vents. They can settle under eaves, under decks, in your gutters, and get stuck in roof corners, igniting your home from the inside out.
To Conclude…We hope you have found some worthwhile information on our Fire Safety page. There is a great amount of information concerning wildfires and wildfire protection on the web and should you wish to keep reading and learning, we have placed three excellent links below in our "A Recommendation For a Rainy Day" section.
BC Wildfires - Fire Bans and Restrictions, This BC government site provides up to date province wide regional information of prohibited activities (campfires, open burning and forest use) and associated restrictions.
Emergency Management BC, This BC government site covers Emergency management in British Columbia, which is guided by four pillars: Mitigation, Preparation, Response and Recovery. Learn how the province is involved in emergencies and find resources for your household, neighbourhood and community. Flood, Extreme Heat, and Wildfire Preparedness are covered.