An edge of the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, photographed last week. NEWS BULLETIN file photo

An edge of the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, photographed last week. NEWS BULLETIN file photo

Fire investigators try to determine whether Wildfire Act was violated

Person-caused Nanaimo Lakes fire held over the weekend, lightning causes two other fire starts

UPDATE: While the wildfire at the Nanaimo Lakes area is still active, it is unlikely to spread, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The fire, located 13 kilometres southwest of Nanaimo and first reported Aug. 5, is “being held,” which the wildfire service defines as a situation where “sufficient suppression action has been taken that the fire is not likely to spread beyond existing or predetermined boundaries under the prevailing and forecasted conditions.”

According to Dorothy Jakobsen, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, the fire remains at 182 hectares in size.

“What the crews will do now is they’ll walk the ground and they’ll look for hot spots and they’ll dig down and they’ll put out each hot spot and they’ll be looking for danger trees, trees that are burned that need to be cut down, and it’s long, laborious, hard work for the crews,” said Jakobsen.

According to Jakobsen, Nanaimo Lakes fire was been determined to be human-caused and remains under investigation, which will take a few months to unfold.

Rain over the weekend didn’t extinguish the fire, Jakobsen said.

“Rain always helps, but at this time of the year it doesn’t do a lot,” said Jakobsen. “It kind of dampens the surface, but doesn’t go very deep, so it’s still very dry. As you know we’re in a drought/high drought rating, so it’s still very dry out there and there’s still fire danger hazards.”

The wildfire service still has 34 firefighters, two helicopters and six pieces of heavy equipment dedicated to the fire.

Nanaimo continues to be affected by smoky skies due to the wildfire and a special air quality statement remains in effect for the area, according to a bulletin from Environment Canada.

People with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, infants, children and sensitive individuals are more susceptible to the smoke and are more likely to see health effects from exposure, said Environment Canada. People who have difficulty breathing are advised to remain inside, it said.

MONDAY MORNING: When lightning strikes, B.C. Wildfire Service knows what’s causing the fires. Other times, the causes are more difficult to figure out.

There have been at least seven person-caused wildfires on Vancouver Island the past two weeks, according to the Coastal Fire Centre.

B.C. Wildfire Service is handling the investigation into the Nanaimo Lakes wildfire, trying to determine how the fire started and exactly where, and also looking into any violation of Wildfire Act compliance, said Dorothy Jakobsen, fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre.

“If there is evidence that the Wildfire Act has been contravened, then we might be looking at court cases and things like that,” she said.

The Nanaimo Lakes wildfire was first reported Aug. 5 and caused an evacuation order and alert as it grew to 182 hectares before the alert was rescinded Saturday, Aug. 11. As of Sunday, Aug. 12, the fire was holding and crews were up to 50 per cent containment.

Jakobsen said B.C. Wildfire’s origin and cause staff are typically on scene quickly.

“It’s variable, but for any investigation it’s key that they’re there right at the beginning,” she said. “They usually come in at the beginning and they’re gone and then we fight the fire.”

Natasha Broznitzky, another fire information officer, said the origin and cause investigators work in close contact with other firefighters.

“Quite often in the area where a fire starts, the fire will of course burn that area and then move to new areas of unburned fuel,” she said. “So quite often in the area where fire origin and cause personnel need to be working, the fire has already moved through that area or the fire behaviour is quite low.”

She said the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development also has a compliance and enforcement branch that sometimes looks into wildfire causes, and added that in some situations, RCMP investigate.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said in an e-mail that police are not conducting any criminal investigation related to the Nanaimo Lakes fire and were only involved to the extent of providing resources to assist with evacuation and road closures as needed.

In addition to the Nanaimo Lakes fire, two other fires outside Nanaimo are listed on the B.C. Wildfire Service website, both suspected to have been caused by lightning.

A fire at Blackjack Creek was discovered Saturday after the storm passed over, and was quickly attacked and held by firefighters, according to the Coastal Fire Centre. Read more at this link.

Another fire at Blackjack Ridge wasn’t reported until Sunday and an update isn’t yet available.

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