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Dry spell brings warning about city beach fires

Aug 03 2012

With the B.C. Day long weekend just ahead, Victoria officials have issued a reminder that beach fires are illegal within city limits.

Firefighters and police officers joined city parks staff on Thursday afternoon at the Dallas Road waterfront to underline their concerns about beach fires, especially during stretches of warm, dry weather.

"This area has been well known in previous years for beach fires and parties," said David Speed, Victoria's assistant director of parks.

Beaches and their environs dry out during the summer months, and fires can easily grow, Speed said.

Fires from Dallas Road beach areas - including one this year at Finlayson Point - have spread up the bluffs to street level, he said.

Mark Cline, Victoria's deputy fire chief, said beach fires not only use up a lot of staff resources - up to two-thirds of the firefighters on shift for some incidents - they sometimes happen in places that hoses can't reach.

In those cases, fire crews head to the beach with buckets to scoop up sea water.

Nearby houses can be affected by smoke from beach fires, Speed said.

Garbage is also often left behind.

"We're spending a lot of staff time down here cleaning up after events that happen Friday, Saturday nights," he said.

He said a different approach to the problem was needed, leading to a new system of patrols involving police officers, firefighters and city bylaw staff. The emphasis of the proactive patrols, which started in spring, is education.

City beaches see about 210 fires a year and the costs can add up, Speed said. He said that one year, the city spent $20,000 to have staff remove wood and combustibles from the water's edge along Dallas Road and at Fonyo Beach and Gonzales Beach.

The fine for having a beach fire ranges from $350 to $2,000. Drinking alcohol in a public place can mean a $230 fine.

Victoria Police Sgt. Colin Brown said the department supports the measures.

"We just want to bring awareness to the fact that we want people to come down and enjoy the beach, but just do it safely," Brown said.

"You're not allowed to drink when you're on the beach, you're not allowed to light fires, but otherwise have a good time."

Meanwhile, the provincial Wildfire Management Branch is urging the public to be careful with campfires over the weekend.

Campers are reminded that their fires can be no larger than a half-metre wide by a half-metre in height. Regulations also call for a one-metre, debris-free ring around the fire, with a shovel or at least eight litres of water nearby for safety.

So far this year, 32 campfires have spread and become wildfires.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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