Paul Lawson, the director of the UBC research forest, changed the forest fire hazard rating to extreme on Monday. (Neil Corbett, THE NEWS)

Paul Lawson, the director of the UBC research forest, changed the forest fire hazard rating to extreme on Monday. (Neil Corbett, THE NEWS)

Forest fire hazard extreme in Maple Ridge

Public access to UBC research forest may be restricted

The fire danger in the forests surrounding Maple Ridge forests is now officially extreme.

On Monday, the B.C. Wildfire Service changed the fire danger rating at the UBC Malcolm Knapp Research Forest in Maple Ridge from high to extreme, meaning “extremely dry forest fuels and the fire risk is very serious. New fires will start easily, spread rapidly, and challenge fire suppression efforts.”

The majority of B.C. is now under an extreme fire hazard rating.

Paul Lawson, the director of the research forest, noted that even parking a vehicle on dry grass could cause ignition in the present conditions.

”The forest is extremely dry and even a spark could cause a major fire. All of our operational woods activity is now shut down,” said Lawson. “We have been under a campfire ban for several weeks already.”

The scenic trails through the forest are popular with hikers, but the risk of human activity causing a forest fire could close the park to them.

“We are not closed to the public, as of yet, but unless there is rain over the weekend we will likely close the forest to public access early next week,” said Lawson

“We have not yet reached the levels of fire hazard that we observed in 2017, but we are not far from it.”

He noted the forest generally sees at least one fire each year, and there were six in 2003. In 1971, there was a large fire that burned approximately 70 hectares.

Lawson urged the public to be extremely careful with smoking materials and with any tool or device that can cause a spark.

There are two pickups equipped with water tanks ready to respond to any fires at the forest, and Lawson noted these usually occur on the forests boundaries with residential developments.

Pitt Meadows assistant Fire Chief Brad Perrie said his department has seen signs of carelessness, having responded to fires at Meadow Vale Shopping Centre and other areas because cigarettes have been thrown into landscaped areas and ignited bark mulch.

Perrie said given this carelessness, it is just lucky that a fire hasn’t broken out in the many rural areas that abut Pitt Meadows homes, such as in the Sheridan Hill area.

He said firefighters have also issued fines for people burning debris.

“People don’t realize how fast a fire can take off in these conditions,” he said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate, and I hope it continues.”

There is a year-round fire ban in Pitt Meadows, and a similar fire ban has been in place in Maple Ridge since July 31. This ban is consistent with similar bans put in place by BC Parks, MetroVan Parks and the BC Wildfire Service.

During the fire ban, only CSA-rated or ULC rated barbecues and cooking stoves that use briquettes or liquid fuel will be allowed, as long as the height of the flame is less than 15 cm and an adult remains in care and control of the appliance at all times. If using briquettes, they must be disposes of carefully in a proper receptacle.

No campfires or open burning will be permitted in any part of the city, including the open to burning area. Also prohibited are open fires that burn woody debris in outdoor stoves, the use of stoves and other portable campfire apparatuses that are not CSA-approved or ULC-approved, tiki torches, fireworks, firecrackers, sky lanterns, chimineas, burning barrels or burning cages of any size or description.

The prolonged hot and dry weather has maintained a high fire danger rating for nine consecutive days. Only a significant and extended rain event will have an impact on the fire danger rating.

Firefighters ask the public to be careful with smoking materials. Dispose of all cigarette butts and matches in proper receptacles and not on the ground, in bark mulch or in planters. In your vehicle, use an ashtray instead of tossing butts out the window.