Even on 'wet coast' of Vancouver Island, wildfire worries grow

Despite Vancouver Island's reputation for its mild coastal climate, a growing number of residents there are looking into protecting their properties against potential wildfires.

Last winter the Strathcona Regional District, mid-way up Vancouver Island, hired its first full-time FireSmart co-ordinator to help train homeowners about potential wildfire hazards.

"The interest has been amazing," said Bonnie Logan, who started the job in December.

"I think people really have woken up to the idea of wildfire — and wildfire on the coast as well."

Logan says since she's been in the job, the regional district has hosted more than 20 information sessions for more than 300 people, and recently had to add two more online sessions due to demand. The district also plans to post one on its website.

With last summer's Newcastle Creek wildfire close to Sayward still top of mind for many, Logan says, many locals no longer take the "wet coast" climate for granted.

According to B.C. Wildfire, the number of wildfires on Vancouver Island has more than doubled in the past five years. In 2023, there were 182 wildfires on the island.

FireSmart coordinator Bonnie Logan with the Strathcona Regional District on Vancouver Island says a lot of local residents have been interested in protecting their properties from wildfires.
FireSmart co-ordinator Bonnie Logan with the Strathcona Regional District says a lot of local residents have been interested in learning how to protect their properties from wildfires. (Submitted by Bonnie Logan)

Risks in urban areas

The increased interest isn't just in more remote areas up island.

The City of Langford, a suburb of Victoria surrounded by forest, says it has seen an uptick in wildfire concern too.

"Over the last few years in B.C. we've had some catastrophic incidents and we've lost towns," said Simon Chadwick, Langford's assistant fire chief.

"People are starting to become aware that, actually, it isn't just going to happen out in the areas away from us."

Chadwick says wildland urban interface fires — when a wildfire jumps from a forested to an urban area — are of particular concern in Langford.

An ember from a fire can travel up to a kilometre on the wind, he says, possibly causing a catastrophic event if a wildfire were to ignite close to the city.

"There's a lot of interface areas that are at risk," Chadwick said. "It's important to to address the wildfire issue before it gets to us."

Langford recently received $400,000 in funding to prepare the community for wildfire season. The city says the money will continue to fund its FireSmart co-ordinator position, and reduce wildfire risks locally.

Chadwick says that includes evaluating wildfire risk in local parks.