The wildfire danger has hit the “extreme” rating in parts of Greater Victoria, including Saanich, and is high on most of Vancouver Island amid dry, hot weather that’s expected to reach the high 20s by the weekend.
The region has already had several grass fires this season, including one on Sunday in which someone set fire to a patch of grass and a picnic bench and later in the day was seen burning a Bible in the area of Shelbourne Street and Cedar Hill Cross Road. A 38-year-old man has been arrested.
Environment Canada predicts Saturday will be the hottest day. It will be even hotter in Port Alberni, Nanaimo and Campbell River. The heat extends into the Interior, where it’s expected to hit 40 in Kamloops.
But even if the mercury reaches 30 C in Victoria, it won’t be a record. The record high for June was 33.5 C on June 6, 2003. The all-time recorded high is 36.3 on July 11, 2007.
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Environment Canada meteorologist Eric Mak said the weather agency expects to issue a heatwave warning across B.C. over the weekend. He said a few millimetres of rain could fall in the Victoria area tonight into Thursday morning but likely not enough to ease the dry conditions.
Last month was the driest May on record with 2.2 millimetres falling at Victoria International Airport. Mak said it’s too early to tell if June will also set a record.
Saanich Fire Chief Mike Burgess urged people to take caution to prevent fires.
“In these dry conditions, unintended fires can happen at home, at the beach and in our parks and trails,” he said. “Smokers must be very careful about cigarettes and not toss them away.”
Homeowners are advised to move dry, flammable materials away from their houses and move barbecues away from any area that may catch fire.
On June 11, a brush fire at the summit of Camrose Park spread rapidly toward homes on Maplewood Road. Fire investigators found cigarette butts and candles in the area, which are thought to have caused the fire.
“As we have seen with recent incidents, grass fires can cause serious damage and spread quickly if a wind picks up,” Burgess said. “Fires that get out of control can quickly engulf buildings and spread to neighbouring property or forested areas.”
Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Steve Eassie said with the long stretch of dry weather, “the fact that someone would publicly be attempting to light a fire is extremely concerning.”
About 9:10 a.m. Sunday, witnesses saw flames coming from a picnic table and a surrounding two-metre patch of grass on Shelbourne. Police and firefighters were called, but the witnesses had already doused the fire with water. Officers found glass nearby and believe it was filled with fuel, lit on fire and then thrown toward the table.
About 2 p.m. a man of a similar description was seen in the 1500 block of Cedar Hill Cross sitting on a park bench and burning a Bible.
Officers arrived on scene to find the man with the lighter in hand and the burned Bible nearby.