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French Beach Park closed after bear rips tents, gets into vehicle

The quiet night turned to mayhem about 4:30 a.m. when loud screams began and people in tents started using their key fobs to set off their car alarms to scare the bear away.

Angela Fletcher and her family were sleeping in their trailer at French Beach Provincial Park this week when a black bear started running about in a frenzy at the campground.

“Car alarms started going off, people were screaming, some were putting their ­children in their trucks … it was crazy,” Fletcher, a Victorian who returned home from Ontario with her family for a vacation, said in an interview Thursday.

She said the bear went into about four campsites during the early hours of Wednesday, ­ripping some tents and getting into vehicles.

The quiet night turned to mayhem at about 4:30 a.m. when loud screams began and people in tents started using their key fobs to set off their car alarms to scare the bear away, she said.

Others got into their ­vehicles and started driving around, ­hoping the lights would drive the bear away, said Fletcher. “It went on and on for about an hour.”

Conservation officers with two bear traps were on the scene later Wednesday morning and the Fletcher family was told they were looking for possibly two bears — a mother and her two-year-old cub, based on reports from other campers.

No injuries were reported, other than frayed nerves, said Fletcher.

B.C. Parks said in a ­statement that it closed French Beach ­Provincial Park on ­Wednesday and Thursday due to a ­“food-conditioned bear in the area.” The day-use area was also evacuated, and the gates are closed.

The provincial agency said late Thursday the entire park will remain closed until Monday, while the B.C. Conservation Officer Service and B.C. Parks monitor the situation. Campsite reservations are being cancelled through the weekend.

B.C. Parks said it will contact those with reservations, and could reopen the park earlier if the bear is captured. It said it needed to close the park to ­protect the public and provide space for the officers to manage the situation safely.

The conservation officer service said in a statement the bear “ripped into three tents, one of which was occupied, and tried to gain access to one unoccupied ­vehicle.”

Baited barrel traps are set to capture the bear, which will be put down once ­captured, the service said. “Based on the ­behaviour, it’s not a suitable ­candidate for relocation.”

Fletcher said the experience likely left some campers in the full campsite traumatized. “We had a place to go, but others were booked there for several nights and just had to leave.”

French Beach has 69 campsites and a group site, and the day-use area along the beach has a playground and trails.

Fletcher said while her ­family — her husband and two children, ages 11 and 15 — felt safe in a trailer, her brother and his wife in a nearby campsite were in a tent trailer with their three-year-old daughter. “When we got home to Brentwood Bay, his little girl said: ‘Are there any bears here?’ ”

Before the campsite was evacuated, conservation and parks officers told campers to put everything away at their sites, including tablecloths that could contain food odours.

Fletcher said while she was growing up in Victoria, her family enjoyed years of ­camping at French Beach, and never encountered bears.

She said while travelling across the country and into the mountains, they were ­bombarded with bear-aware ­signage and messaging and did not see any bears.

“So you get home and go to French Beach and this happens,” she said. “My parents have been camping for 60 years and we have camped as a family [at French Beach] for years, but never had anything happen like this. So it was quite a memorable time, one we’ll remember for a long time.”

B.C. Parks said it was attempting to provide visitors with suggestions of other possible camping locations. However, China Beach and Goldstream provincial campsites are already full.

“B.C. Parks does not take these management decisions lightly and regrets the impact this closure has had on vacationers at this busy time,” it said in a statement. “Visitor safety is of utmost importance in these potentially high risk situations.”

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