On Sunday July 5th 2015, Gabriolans gathered at the local community hall to express concern, ask questions, and share information about preparedness and action in this summer of extreme fire risk. The fact that nearly 400 people attended a meeting that had been arranged that very day is indicitive of the level of concern felt when we awoke to an eerie, out-of-this-world, glowing orange pall to the sky. People came wanting answers and a plan of action. They got a dose of reality.
We live in a community, as with all communities everywhere, with a finite set of human and equipment resources. We are experiencing a summer of severe drought that is occurring across the entire province and beyond. Through lower than expected levels of rain we are already at a Level Four drought. The result has been the province erupting into 60+ wildfires this weekend alone. We have seen the consequences of extreme weather elsewhere in the world. Now it is our turn.
The message of the evening, delivered by Fire Chief Rick Jackson, RCMP Constable Jan Hendriks and ESS coordinator, Shirley Nicolson, was that we are individually responsible for our own plan. The firefighters will be fighting any fires and the three RCMP officers will be dealing with issues of public safety and provincial emergency services will be assisting with minimum levels of service for people who are evacuated from their homes (for a maximum of 72 hours). The rest is up to us.
Experience elsewhere has shown that in times of crisis people pull together. That is what is needed here now, in advance of any severe situation. Our best defence is at a neighbourhood level, neighbour assisting neighbour. Citizen action is the order of the day.
How can we help? What can we do?
Today: ensure that you have a reflective house number, viewable from the road at night, so that first responders can quickly respond to any calls.
Constantly be alert for any indication of fire with heightened vigilance now that we are experiencing smoke from wildfires elsewhere in the province.
Carry a fully-charged fire extinguisher in your vehicle so that you are prepared to deal with any newly emergent fire situation you may be the first to encounter.
Carry a charged cell phone, if you have one, so that 911 call can be made as soon as necessary.
See broken glass lying at the side of the road or on a trail? Pick it up! Prevent a fire.
Meet with your immediate neighbours. Do you know their names? Their addressess? Do you have their contact information (e-mail and phone number)? Have you discussed the human and material resources available to you in the immediate vicinity? Who has access to a large water supply? Who has medical training? Who has skills and tools that would be useful in an emergency? Who is vulerable? Elderly? Alone? Compromised mobility? Breathing difficulties that would be affected by levels of smoke in the air? People with infants and children? Who has pets and livestock? Refresh this information now. Have that conversation now.
Carry the Fire Duty Officer pager number with you at all times (250-755-9289). This is the number to call for concerns of unsafe behaviour, non emergency situations that need to be investigated, such as the recent use of fireworks on the island.
Be diligent if you see someone driving with four-way flashers or flashing headlights. This is a firefighter, paramedic, or doctor attending a call. Give them the right-of-way!
Become involved if you see someone behaving in a potentially dangerous manner… challenge anyone who tosses out a cigarette butt… smoking should be done indoors only during this time of drought. Be aware of the total fire ban and the restrictions on usage of power tools and inform others if necessary.
Follow local FM radio for updates on emerging situations: The Wolf 106.9FM and The Wave 102.3 FM.
Pack and carry a Grab-and-Go bag in your vehicle or have it at your door. Assume that when you leave your house during this extreme drought, you might not be able to get back. Have your ID, your family contact information, medications/prescriptions, extra eyeglasses, water, a change of clothers, items for personal hygiene, have cash on hand (ATMs will be down in a power outage), a crank/solar powered radio, photos of family members and pets, important documents, insurance papers.
Keep your gas tank no less than half full so that you don’t run out.
If evacuation becomes necessary, police or fire vehicles will drive through a neighbourhood with sirens and loudspeaker alerts.
You are responsible for the people living on either side of you. Yes, you. Are they safe? Can they get out?
Take responsiblity. Take action. This is what will determine the outcome of this time of extreme risk for our community. If something needs to be done, take control. Some individuals left the meeting determined to get a sign put up at the Nanaimo side of our ferry terminal alerting visitors and new residents to the reality of our extreme fire risk. If something needs to be done to ensure our safety and the best outcome for our island, do it. That is how this meeting happend. Do not point fingers at others in the community. Take the action yourself; collaborate with your friends and neighbours.
Shift that consciousness!
Due to widespread concern related to our extreme fire hazard and surrounding wildfires, a meeting has been called for 7 pm tonight (July 5th, 2015) at the Gabriola Community Hall.
If you have any questions or concerns, please attend.
A seven year old boy from Nanaimo has died after he was overcome by fumes in a fire at his home this past week. A passing RCMP officer spotted the flames and alerted the family. He attempted to reach the boy on the second floor, but was unable to, due to the smoke and heat. Had it not been for the officer noticing the fire when he did, this tragedy would have been even worse.
I understand there was not a working smoke detector at this location. Had there been one the chances are very good that all of the family would have been alerted in ample time to escape.
PLEASE! Check to make sure your smoke detectors are operational, and less than 10 years old. If you can’t afford to buy one, call the Gabriola Fire Department (250-247-9677) and we will give you one.
With today’s cheap smoke detector technology their is no reason for people to die – usually in their sleep from carbon monoxide suffocation – in a fire.
Canada still has an unacceptably high rate of such deaths.
We recently responded to a page for a structure fire. On arrival we found the house full of acrid plastic smelling smoke. The home owner directed us to the clothes dryer which had smoke rising from behind it. We immediately shut off the electrical breaker, determined that their were no flames present, and pulled the dryer out from the wall. We used our Thermal imaging camera (TIC) to determine that no heat or flames was present in the wall itself.
The problem was caused by a fault in the plug. Possibly the copper conductors inside had been damaged at some point while removing it, possibly by pulling the plug out by the wire.
If any of those copper conducting wires attaching the plug to the cord are broken, the electricity flows through the fewer remaining wires, and the resistance caused by this reduced conductor size generates heat, which can build up and further damage the plug.
Eventually the heat becomes great enough that the plastic starts to melt and / or burn.
If you have a plug or electrical cord that you suspect may be too hot, have it inspected by a qualified person.
We have received some question regarding power equipment usage during restricted times. Generally speaking these restrictions apply to machines that are likely to cause an issue- chainsaws, lawnmowers, weed-eaters, as well as heavy equipment such as backhoes and excavators.
The BC Forest service issues a list of different types of jobs and their relative risk factors that our department uses as a guideline. Logging, for instance has a high fire risk factor during very dry weather and so it is restricted. Loading those logs onto a truck at a roadside dump is considered a low risk hazard and therefore is allowed. Digging an excavation to build a house in an area already cleared is also low risk, as is running a compactor or generator inside an area like a foundation.
Which brings me back to the original question- skill saws, electric drills, compressors and other such construction tools generally would be a low hazard application, and as long as there isn’t a potential issue created by piled up sawdust or chips -a fuel load- then these should be acceptable to use during restrictions.
If in doubt, please call us, as knowing who is doing what and where is beneficial knowledge to us in the event of a problem or complaint.
Recently a women called the fire dept after she noticed smoke coming from this planter on her deck. Upon closer examination it was evident that there was a lot of heat generated, melting the planter. The planter was full of soil and topped with peat moss. Moist peat moss has been known to spontaneously combust. This is also a danger with damp BBQ briquettes, and of course oily or greasy rags.
(Click image to see a larger version of the photo.)
The rain on Wednesday has prevented an escalation of the fire hazard to Extreme. In anticipation of a further drying trend expected to start today, we are leaving the rating at High Early Shift for now.
NOTE: This post was made on July 24th; our wildfire hazard rating has changed since then. To view the current status, see the sidebar or the current wildfire hazard rating for Gabriola page.
Last night we put up the ‘no fire’ signs all around Gabriola, and switched our fire status to high early shift.
It’s that time of year again when one careless person can seriously affect everyone’s safety. If you see someone toss a cigarette from a car – or otherwise dispose of one irresponsibly – please take the time to give the licence number to us, or the RCMP. At the present time we are not permitted to use stocks for these situations, but at the very least, a good talking to will be in order.