Slash piles an increasing forest fire hazard

Hydro assures they will be chipped as piles on powerline right-of-ways in Golden Ears Park spark concern

The fire hazard represented by slash piles on a powerline right-of-way through Maple Ridge is still a worry, despite B.C. Hydro reassuring local firefighters the material would be chipped and removed.

Maple Ridge Fire Chief Peter Grootendorst said removal of the mounds of fallen trees and brush in Golden Ears Provincial Park was slated to begin this week, even though the forest fire hazard rating is high and some industrial activity in the forests is discouraged.

“We’re encouraging them to get going,” Grootendorst said of Hydro crews.

“It’s getting drier by the minute.”

Hydro and its contractor Flatiron-Graham are building a new 247-km powerline from Merritt to Coquitlam. The right of way traverses the northern part of the district and through Golden Ears, stretching 14 km and covering some 200 hectares.

Grootendorst said members of the public, environmental groups and representatives of UBC’s Malcolm Knapp Research Forest have expressed concerns about slash piles left behind by the forest clearing – a drying fuel source that represents a significant fire hazard.

Research forest manager Paul Lawson fears the slash could fuel a major fire. If fire spread to the nearby research forest, tree-growing experiments spanning decades, could be wiped out. The forest is located at the north end of 232nd Street.

Hydro has agreed to chip the material, and Grootendorst has asked the utility company to focus its clearing efforts on areas in close proximity to homes.

Because of the heightened forest fire rating, Hydro will be using chippers with an extinguishing system and be taking extra fire safety precautions, he said.

The chips will then be hauled off site. If conditions are deemed unsafe for the work, it will be halted by the Wildfire Management Branch.

Grootendorst said he was told the work would start this week. But as of the end of Wednesday, he hadn’t seen “any machinery arrive yet.”

That same day, he did receive assurance that work would start this week.


Keep guard up

Statistically, more wildfires occur when the forest fire hazard is rated ‘moderate.’

“People tend to let their guard down a little,” Grootendorst said, while at the same time the small, fine fuels such as dry grass are easily ignited.

Now, with dry summertime temperatures, the rating is ‘high.’ He said people should use extreme caution with campfires or other fires.

Make sure they have a shovel, bucket of water or some other means to extinguish it, and ensure any fire’s sparks are not going into a combustible fuel source.

Barbecue charcoal can still be a hazard, and those using it should ensure it is cold before disposing of it.

Cigarette butts still cause wildfires, and Grootendorst reminds people to safely dispose of all smoking materials.

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