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Fire danger rating bumped to extreme on Island

In hot, dry weather, every spark could start a blaze, fire centre says

Sunny skies and soaring temperatures have placed southern Vancouver Island in the extreme fire danger range, the Coastal Fire Centre said Wednesday.

The southern tip of Vancouver Island, south of Nanaimo and south of Port Renfrew, is in the extreme fire danger rating, said Donna MacPherson, fire information officer for the centre. The fire danger for Port Alberni and the area from Campbell River to Sayward are also rated extreme.

"In extreme, what we're talking about is how likely is it that a spark will start something," MacPherson said. "When you get into extreme, we anticipate every spark could start a fire. - It's 100 per cent ignition in the afternoons."

Vancouver Island has had only 1.4 millimetres of rain to date in August, well below the 8.8 mm considered normal. Hot weather over the past two days has quickly dried out forests in coastal B.C., said MacPherson. Although the forecast calls for lightning this weekend, it could be 10 days before any rain falls.

As temperatures continue to climb, other parts of Vancouver Island may also move into the extreme fire danger range.

"We're asking people to be as cautious as possible when they're out in the forest," MacPherson said.

Campfires should be no larger than 50 centimetres across and surrounded by a one-metre dirt barrier, built away from flammable materials such as trees and wooden structures, and completely extinguished when people leave a campsite. Smokers must also be very careful about cigarettes and not toss them away.

"Carry a container with a bit of water and drop it in there," MacPherson said.

"Don't roll down your window and chuck a burning cigarette out."

All-terrain vehicles are also a problem, the fire officer said. People drive ATVs around in the dry grass and the grass gets caught up in the undercarriage where the muffler sits. The hot muffler can cause the grass to catch fire.

"If you're driving around, please drive in the dirt, not in the grass," MacPherson said.

On its website, the Wildfire Management Branch says it has received reports of generalized smoke in Port Alberni, Pemberton, the Fraser Valley and many areas throughout the southern and central Interior.

"Most of the province is experiencing hazy skies as a result of smoke," the notice says. "We do have active fires throughout the province, but do not currently have any wildfires that would produce this amount of smoke. The smoke you are seeing is coming from Russia. It is being drawn across the Pacific due to the current weather pattern."

People are asked to report plumes of smoke or flames by calling *5555 on their cellphone or 18006635555 on a landline.

A map of the fire danger ratings for the province can be seen at bcwildfire.ca. ldickson@timescolonist.com