Open flames and smoking are banned in Nanaimo’s parks, but firefighters are battling multiple small blazes in vacant lots, parks and dumpsters around town.
The city has issued a reminder to residents and park users that smoking, campfires and charcoal barbecues are banned in city parks, except for propane barbecues, which can be operated in picnic shelters in Bowen and Maffeo Sutton parks and on picnic tables in all parks.
But the reminder about city regulations, issued Thursday, didn’t prevent several fires from sparking up in undeveloped areas and untended private lots, which included an ottoman set alight in Beaufort Park, a fire in a homeless encampment in Diver Lake Park and a blaze in a makeshift homeless camp shelter near Rosstown Road.
“Somebody’d taken small logs and teepeed them around a big fir tree and when the crews got there it was burning fairly well around the inside of this structure,” said Capt. Ennis Mond, Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s chief fire prevention officer who was making his rounds investigating the fires Friday morning.
“If it was hot and dry it could have been a lot worse than it was.”
The list of Thursday’s fires included a mix of those sparked by accidental causes and others that appeared to have been intentionally set.
“Unknown persons went into the washroom at Harewood Centennial Park and lit the rolls of toilet paper on fire in the men’s washroom,” Mond said.
The fire damaged the wall and floor of the structure.
There was also a series of small fires in vacant lots north of Woodgrove Centre that were tackled by fire crews from Nanaimo Fire Rescue and Lantzville Volunteer Fire Department, and an upholstered chair in a dumpster was lit on fire near Pier 1 Imports.
A fire also broke out in a locked dumpster on Stewart Avenue, but it is unclear if its cause was intentional or accidental.
Mond said he has already received complaints about build up of underbrush and people camping in areas with where the risk of a serious fire will rise with a stretch of hot, dry weather, but he also noted that fires in homeless camps are primarily accidental.
“In all the fires I’ve looked at where the homeless have been involved or what we suspect is homeless people-caused, they don’t intentionally do that. It’s usually accidental,” he said. “Ninety per cent of the time these little shelters they build, they build them in such a fashion that you can’t see them. So they don’t want to be found. They don’t want to be seen. The ones I’ve dealt with, anyway.”
Nanaimo Fire Rescue and the city will focus on educating the public in the coming weeks about the risk fires from discarded cigarettes and other sources.
“In two more months, three months, we don’t know what we’re going to have this year,” Mond said. “All forecasts are for a warm summer again, so I’d hate to have one of these incidents in Bowen Park and half the park goes up or something like that.”
To report a fire in a City of Nanaimo park or trail, call 911.
To report a wildfire, call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on most cellular networks.