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‘Reinstate campfire ban,’ Chilliwack storm watcher urges province

Fire ban should’ve stayed in place ‘at least until delayed fall rains arrive,’ he argued

The campfire ban was lifted this week in southern B.C. by the Coastal Fire Centre.

But a Chilliwack weather watcher is arguing it should be reinstated.

Roger Pannett, a retired provincial employee, who has volunteered as Chilliwack’s weather observer and storm watcher for Environment Canada for 34 years, started questioning the rationale of the BC Wildfire Service this week.

He argued that given the severely dry and windy conditions, the campfire prohibition should not have in fact been lifted.

“Because of the ongoing prolonged drought, many trees are showing severe stress and base fuels are remaining tinder dry,” Pannett underlined in his message to Coastal Fire officials.

“Day and nighttime temperatures are well above normal, in addition to low 24-hour humidity in the gusty northeast outflow winds.”

On Sept. 20, Coastal Fire Centre officially lifted the ban on campfires (also tiki torches, chimineas, and outdoor stoves) meaning they are no longer prohibited in the coastal region that includes the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland as well as Vancouver Island. It had been in place since early August.

Category 2 and 3 open fires remain prohibited, which include fires in burn barrels and burn cages, as well as fireworks, sky lanterns. This ban will remain in place until Oct. 28 – or until the order is rescinded.

But Chilliwack and area just crawled through the hottest August month ever recorded since record-keeping started, Pannett stated and so far it’s been the driest September on record. He likes to point out that the file of weather records he keeps for Chilliwack, for which he is also the caretaker, date back to 1879.

“With all the updated ongoing drought weather conditions, plus a declaration the Lower Mainland is experiencing a maximum Stage 4 drought, I can’t believe someone made the decision to lift the campfire prohibition!” Pannett fumed in his letter.

Plus there’s only minimal rainfall expected Friday, followed by more dry sunny days so the drought will definitely continue.

“Since September 10, when severe wildfire smoke occurred here in Chilliwack with a 418 reading, smoky conditions have continued coming from the wildfire near Hope,” Pannett wrote on Sept. 20. “To reduce risk of more destructive human caused wildfires please re-instate the campfire ban ASAP, at least here in the Chilliwack region, until delayed fall rains arrive.”

The official response from fire information officer Mike McCulley of the Coastal Fire Centre on Sept. 22, was that there are “as of right now there are no plans to reinstate” the campfire ban. But that could change.

“We re-evaluate daily,” he said.

Most of the wildfires they’re seeing are lightning caused, not sparked from campfires, and that lower risk of wildfire guided the decision.

“We have enough resources to take care of them. Also we don’t see a huge number of fires starting from campfires. The big thing to note is that it’s been a large lightening year.”

They definitely do take local conditions into consideration at Coastal Fire Centre, McCulley confirmed. They look at the science, weather stations and local knowledge and other factors. That can be seen in the way that the B.C. fire prohibitions are put in place, and rescinded, regularly with the changing conditions.

For example in 2021 the summer campfire ban was rescinded by Sept. 3.

In 2022, the prolonged hot weather of early August saw the bans put in place Aug. 3. The campfire bans apply to Crown land, B.C. parks and private property.

RELATED: Campfires banned Aug. 3 in southeast, coastal, and Kamloops fire centres

“Even though the drought conditions were still relatively high, the decision (on Sept. 20) was that the risk was not significant enough whereby the prohibition would need to stay in place,” McCulley said.

“So not to discard the risk, but it’s been a more active summer for lightning caused fires.”

These campfire bans do not apply within the boundaries of municipalities. City of Chilliwack has its own fire prevention bylaws and fire departments, and fire bans for within its boundaries. Outdoor burning is prohibited in all residential zones in Chilliwack from May 1 to Sept. 30.

To report a wildfire, call 1 800 663-5555 toll-free or *5555 on a cell phone.

RELATED: Fire ban lifted by province

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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