|Firefighters ‘mop up’ Tuesday, after putting out a ‘potentially devastating’ fire on Brickyard Hill on South Road. ~ Photo by Rick Jackson|
A “potentially devastating” Tuesday morning fire on Brickyard Hill was within minutes of being “a disaster for the south end of Gabriola”, according to Fire Trustee Albert Reed.
In his opinion as a fire protection engineer, Reed said Thursday, if firefighters had taken ten minutes more to attack the fire, it would have been impossible for them to control it.
Constable Ed de Jong, who set up a South Road roadblock at Coats Road, said the fire was sparked by power lines downed by trees and high winds. He said the fire started at about 11:30 am and was reported by an EMCON driver who happened to be in the vicinity when the fire started “and called in to the fire department right away”.
Fire Chief Rick Jackson said Wednesday that the fire was already “about 100 metres long and maybe 30 metres back into the woods” at its largest point with the flames climbing “about 30 feet” into the fir trees by the time he got to the scene, just minutes after the fire had started.
“I saw a wall of smoke and fire that was unbelievably big”, Jackson said. With the strong winds that were blowing Tuesday, he thought Ministry of Forests helicopters would be needed to water-bomb the flames, so he had them paged.
Jackson said “pumper truck number three”, which is stationed on the southeast end of the island, arrived below the fire about three minutes after he did, and shot water and flame-retardant across the top of the flames on one side. About two minutes after that, he said, pumper truck number five arrived above the fire from the northwest side of the island and did the same. He said between the two trucks, fire crews were able to knock down the flames even before the helicopters showed up about 20 to 30 minutes later. He said the forestry workers flew over the scene to ensure the blaze was out, and then landed their helicopters and helped with the “mop up”.
But that wasn’t the end of the day’s work for Gabriola fire fighters. Jackson said the volunteers attended their regular practice night on Tuesday, and after about four hours of training, another fire call came in at 8 pm.
What made the hair go up on the back of his neck, Jackson said, was that the phrase used to describe the evening’s fire: “a brush fire, spreading to grass, moving fast”, was “exactly the same” as for the fire on Brickyard Hill. Fortunately, he said, the second fire, which was on Coast Road, was not large, and crews were able to put it out quickly despite the continued high winds.
Jackson said the second fire may have been caused by a tossed cigarette.
Early reporting essential
“Whenever we get these high winds I don’t sleep”, Jackson said. “When the power goes down in the wind it’s almost guaranteed there’s a fire”. He said when there is a power surge or flicker he expects that “any minute now”, he will be called out.
What he is most afraid of, Jackson said, is of a fire like Tuesday morning’s occurring in the middle of the night, when there is no one around to see it start. He was thankful that the branch that started the fire “stayed on the tree” until daylight.
Reed affirmed that quick reporting made all the difference in the fire’s outcome. “That is information the community needs to be given to show how important it is to call 911 even on a suspicion”, he said.
In his report at Wednesday’s Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District meeting at Fire Hall #1, Jackson said in August he raised his concerns about the need for quick access to all parts of the island with BC Hydro. He said he is specifically concerned about “the un-built sections of Chichester, but there’s other areas (as well). Had yesterday’s incident happened there, we would have been way worse off, due to the inability to access that corridor. And not only that, but there’s a lot more houses and a lot more bush in there”.
Asked to comment on the week’s fires, Jackson said: “It’s always great to see firefighters showing up. We always seem to have what we need when this happens. I really appreciate our people”.
Reed said: “The community south and uphill from Brickyard Hill should know (Gabriola firefighters) saved all of them”.
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