Minnekhada blaze ‘could have been so much worse,’ says Coquitlam mayor

photo supplied Metro Vancouver

After three straight days of BC Wildfire Service helicopters dumping water on the blaze at Minnekhada Regional Park, the size of the fire appears to be decreasing. However, concern over future wildfires in the area are not, according to some Coquitlam councillors and staff.

Coquitlam fire chief Jim Ogloff offered an update on the wildfire during a council meeting Monday afternoon.

At around 3 p.m., Ogloff said the fire had shrunk from about 12 to 11 hectares, and there was no indication that residential evacuations would be needed.

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Because of the steep and rugged terrain of the area, fighting the fire with ground crews has been “extremely difficult,” according to Ogloff, making helicopter bucketing the primary method of containment.

He called his department’s initial response and the interagency cooperation across the region “very efficient and coordinated.”

“This latest event is a stark reminder that our region is not immune to wildfires,” Ogloff said.

‘Minimal growth’

On Saturday morning, a brush fire quickly spread to 12 hectares, requiring first Coquitlam, then Metro Vancouver, to activate their respective emergency operation centres to coordinate regionally.

“This one could have been much worse,” said Mayor Richard Stewart on Monday, adding he hopes the event opens up more coordinated discussions about risks to the city’s northern interface and watershed.

Over 30 firefighters and five helicopters were deployed on Sunday, and five helicopters were again deployed on Monday, Oct. 3.

An aerial assessment of the fire on Monday morning showed the fire showed only “minimal growth” overnight and was “spotty” over the 12 hectare area, according to an email from Brant Arnold-Smith, Metro Vancouver’s spokesperson.

He added it’s going to take a multi-day operation to fully contain the fire due to the dry weather.

Climate change

The fire risk to the area has been a concern for city manager Peter Steblin for many years due to climate change, he said following the fire chief’s update.

Steblin said when he was chair of the Canadian Water Network approximately a decade ago, a study showed one of the biggest risks is the drying out of historic fuels (forests), making them more susceptible to fire and its spread.

“This particular fire is very small in relation to what it could have been, and the concerns are with all the forest lands to the north, the entire watershed,” Steblin said.

“If there was a conflagration up there it would be a very heavy, very significant event for all of the Lower Mainland.”

Steblin added a technical committee had previously been set up to improve coordination with the province, but he doesn’t believe any reports have come out.

Oglaff said the committee meets monthly, and one report was released in May. He said the group has an ongoing list of action items including regional tabletop exercises and training initiatives.

Coun. Brent Asmundson said he’s brought up reducing fuel loads within Coquitlam’s watershed on numerous occasions at Metro Vancouver’s water committee, but there’s been “reluctance” due to potential impacts on the environment.

“If a fire does happen there and spreads, the siltation runoff in the future could be devastating,” he said.

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