Provincial authorities have decided not to suppress a 200-hectare wildfire on East Redonda Island, citing concerns about the effect of heavy machinery and chemicals on the land and the possible benefits of a fire – even though it’s suspected to be person-caused.
“We have an existing control line between the ecological reserve and the rest of the land,” said Donna MacPherson, an information officer for the BC Wildfire Service. “That’s where we’re focusing our efforts.”
Discovered on Aug. 24, the blaze grew last weekend by about 90 hectares, according to the Coastal Wildfire Centre. The cause is currently under investigation, according to the provincial wildfire authority.
MacPherson said on Thursday morning that firefighters were maintaining a control line, reinforced with sprinklers, between the ecological reserve and the rest of the land.
There were 13 firefighters working on the blaze, and MacPherson said firefighters were focusing on places where the fire had approached the control line.
“They’re mopping up those areas to get the heat away from the line,” she said. “That’s a matter of going into the area, walking it, looking for heat and smoke, digging it up [and] putting it out.”
She said that process extends “at least 50 feet back” from the control line.
Firefighters aren’t trying to suppress the fire inside the borders of the ecological reserve, a wilderness that spans over 6,200 hectares. That decision was made by BC Parks, she said.
David Karn, a spokesperson for B.C. environment ministry, said the fire doesn’t pose a risk to human safety or infrastructure.
He said the ecological reserve’s fire management plan states that “[t]he use of chemicals and heavy equipment will not be permitted within the reserve.”
In situations where there’s no risk to public safety or “other designated values,” the provincial ministry of forests and BC Parks “will evaluate wildfires, at the initial attack stage, in allowing the fire to burn naturally,” according to the policy.
Firefighters are using a “modified response” to deal with the East Redonda blaze, Karn said, meaning the goal is to keep the wildfire within a pre-determined perimeter.
While wildfires result in the short-term displacement for animal populations, fires also happen naturally and benefit the ecosystem, Karn noted.
“Many species evolved in, and require, wildfire-maintained ecosystems to thrive,” he said.
Karn added that the province often prescribes controlled burns, but said that firefighters may resort to more aggressive action if the fire exceeds reserve boundaries or becomes a risk to public safety.
The wildfire is believed to be the source of a heavy pall of smoke that hung over Campbell River on Wednesday, according to provincial air quality meteorologist Tarek Ayache. He said conditions should clear in the coming days.
Meanwhile, wildfires continued to burn across the North Island and mainland B.C. The province extended its state of emergency last week until Sept. 12 amid another record-breaking wildfire season.
More than 1,298,000 hectares had burned by the end of August, surpassing last year’s total of 1,216,053 hectares, according to the BC Wildfire Service.