Forest blaze on Dog Mountain side of Sproat Lake

By Monday, the mushrooming Dog Mountain forest fire at Sproat Lake, near Port Alberni, B.C. had grown to 96 hectares. Stagnant, windless air pushed some smoke particles westward to Vancouver Island’s West Coast.

The fire was reported at 1.5 ha at 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, at five ha by 6:30 p.m. that evening. By Sunday morning, July 5, it covered 35 ha and it had swallowed up 45 hectares by that evening. By Monday afternoon, it covered 96 hectares.

Transportation was uninterrupted Monday for West Coast residents from places like Ucluelet and Tofino. Highway 4, which winds around the other side of Sproat Lake, is the only road to the other side of the island, but the fire was not expected to jump across the lake. Tinder-dry conditions prompted a province-wide burn ban, which technically exempted a 2km-wide sliver of coast line known as the "fog zone," but a number of West Coast resorts and campgrounds ban outdoor fires anyway, citing unseasonally dry weather that left Ucluelet and Tofino stepping up water conservation efforts.  

Sproat Lake residents were urged to remove any dry material to avoid embers or ashes that may float across to their properties starting a new fire. 

The Alberni Clayoquot Regional District’s Level One Emergency Operations Centre was providing support for the Forest Service in their response to the blaze.

"This area is still considered dangerous due to the rolling debris coming downhill from the fire. The public is cautioned that this is a very active and dangerous response area, and they should not approach the area by boat or foot," a statement from the B.C. Coastal Fire Centre read.

Fire officials were evacuating Dog Mountain including cabins and cottage. Citizens were asked to stay clear of the fire. Slopes and vegetation in the area of the fire were considered extremely unstable. Boat traffic on the lake were to keep clear of airborne fire fighting apparatus.

The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with Island Health, issued a Wildfire Smoke Advisory on Monday for the east and south coast of Vancouver Island from Campbell River to Victoria, including the Alberni Valley.   

It carried a warning for those with breathing issues.

"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," said a release posted on the ACRD’s website.

"This situation is expected to persist until meteorological conditions change," the release said.

A peachey haze that made the sun gleaming through smoke particles appear a coral colour in Ucluelet on Sunday was a side effect of wildfires burning in places like Dog Mountain, but the pall that had cleared out some by Monday, said Environment Canada meteorologist Chris Gibbons. 

"We’re in a fairly stagnant pattern over last weekend, and there hasn’t been much in the way of air flow aloft," Gibbons told the Westerly News.

"We saw some pretty big spikes in air quality readings Sunday night over the south coast," he said. 

Big fires in areas like Whistler and Sechelt added to the haze over the weekend, which was captured by a NASA satellite image of what appeared to be a giant cloud over much of the south Island.

Wildfire fighters around the province are fighting dangerous wildfires in one of the driest summers in recent memory in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, the Alberni Valley News reported Monday that after the Province reached a contract agreement, a familiar orange fire-fighting ally was expected to hit the Sproat Lake waters on Tuesday, July 6.

The Martin Mars waterbomber "will be watered tomorrow and the training of flight crews starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow and should be doing test flying on Wednesday afternoon," said Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Coulson Group, in an email to the News.

The waterbomber was on standby. If the Mars is sent to fight fires it will do so under an existing helicopter contract with the provincial government, he said.

"I can’t tell you if they will call but we should be serviceable and able to fly by Thursday if she runs okay," Coulson said.

Coulson told the Alberni Valley Times the company has been in touch with the Province for months.  

“The Mars has been offered to the government starting three months ago when the government agency fire predictive models were indicating the B.C. Coast was going to experience a bad wildfire season.”  

For more information, visit www.firesmartbc.ca.

(with files from Alberni Valley News, Alberni Valley Times)