Glass ornament scorches mulch, as heat, drought raise fire danger on Island

Jocelyn Abrams was pulling into her driveway when she noticed smoke billowing out of her flower bed.

She rushed over to find a metal and glass garden ornament scorching the bark mulch, creating a cloud of smoke “like someone was having a ­barbecue.” Another minute, she said, and it could have caught fire, putting put her Saanich yard and home — even those of her ­neighbours — at risk.

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It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of the prolonged heat wave and dry spell in the region.

“It’s like a magnifying glass in the sun sort of thing, sitting there all day long getting really hot,” Abrams said Monday. “You don’t even think about it.”

The metal and glass ornament, which has a small solar panel that lights up the glass globe at night, was left charred. It was next to an oak-barrel planter a few metres from her house.

Abrams wonders how many of these ornaments are stuck in gardens, in direct sunlight, across the region and the potential dangers, especially if people are away on holidays for extended periods.

She said a friend in Cedar had placed a glass vase on a wooden table on an outdoor deck and arrived home to find the table scorched.

“It’s a slow burn … and it’s just a matter of time before there’s a flash point and fire,” Abrams said. “I just wanted to let people know … I was shocked.”

With conditions tinder-dry amid ongoing heat and lack of rain, fire departments and governments are warning that a carelessly discarded cigarette or spark from tools or machinery could ignite a damaging fire.

“It’s scary,” said Matt Bell, a spokesman for the B.C. Wildfire Service Coastal Division. “So many different things have the potential [to cause fires]. So the public has to continue to be ­diligent.”

Weather records are dropping in the region as temperatures rise. The Gonzales Observatory hasn’t recorded a measurable drop of rain in more than 41 days, making it the longest stretch of bone-dry days since 1973.

At the Victoria airport, the last shower was recorded on June 15. Since 1940, when it started keeping records, the most days between rain at the airport is 54, a record set in 2017.

There is a good chance that record will be broken if we don’t see any measurable rain between now and Aug. 9.

“I don’t see any change in the weather pattern in the near term — in the next week to 10 days,” said Bobby Sekhon, meteorologist for Environment Canada.

Sekhon said the drought follows the driest spring on record, with five months of unseasonably dry weather. “While it is common to see stretches of dry days this time of the year, we typically could at least count on a few days of rain until mid-June.”

With its offshore breezes, Victoria has so far escaped the smoke created by the dozens of wildfires currently burning in the rest of the province. But it’s just a matter of time before that changes, said Sekhon.

“Our air quality can be affected by fires burning from as far away as Siberia, let alone the ones burning locally and in the U.S.,” he said. Sekhon said wind flow is “fluid,” with wind direction determined by a number of factors, including atmospheric conditions, and we could see a “dirty westerly” flow of air in September.

Bell said the Island has so far escaped any major wildfires, but conditions are listed as “extreme.”

The fire-risk danger “is as high as you can go,” he said. “All it takes is a dry lightning strike or a human-caused fire.”

Wildfire crews extinguished a small fire caused by a vehicle accident Monday near Campbell River.

The only other fire on the Island, at Muir Creek near Shirley, is in the “mop-up stage,” said Bell.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

parrais@timescolonist.com

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