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Photos: This week in Greater Victoria images, Sept. 16 - 22

Sep 24 2012

Fire crews near Shawnigan Lake had contained about 20 per cent of a rapidly growing forest fire by Sunday evening.

By Sunday, the fire that began Saturday had expanded to about 20 hectares. It grew from about four hectares Saturday evening and has been extremely difficult to put out because of an unusually dry late summer, fire officials said.

A lack of rain has created tinder-dry conditions on the TimberWest-managed land, about 12.5 kilometres west of Shawnigan Lake.

Provincial fire information officer Marg Drysdale said a 30-member firefighting crew established the 20 per cent containment boundary along the east flank of the blaze and made “good progress” along the west flank on Sunday.

Once they contain the fire, which is believed to have been caused by human activity, firefighters will work their way toward its centre. Progress, however, has been slow because the dry conditions have created the ideal fuel for the fire, which is burning its way deep into the soil.

“It’s not over,” Drysdale said. “Our crews will be digging into the dirt, we can’t just pour water on it. It will be a hard slog to get this fire out.”

About 30 crew members were on site Sunday along with six helicopters, three water tanker trucks and six tree fallers. Another crew of 26 or so was to arrive late Sunday or Monday to provide relief.

The greatest assistance, though, would be rain. August and the first 23 days of September have seen just 1.8 millimetres fall at Victoria International Airport, compared with nearly 58 mm that fell in the same months last year, according to Environment Canada.

“We’re parched,” Drysdale said. “We need about 40 mm of rain just to get to our average levels. This has been an extremely unusual summer.”

Even though the fire season has spilled into August and September before, it’s unusual to see conditions this dry this close to October, Drysdale said.

Putting out a fire at this time of year under normal conditions would be much easier, with rainfall and overnight precipitation that would moisten the forest and its extensive underbrush.

Drydale reminded the public to be cautious with fire, given the dry conditions.

“It becomes an issue because once it’s fall, the kids go back to school and they’re not thinking about wildfires and wildfire dangers at that point,” she said. “We need a season-ending event, like a good rainfall to get us back to normal.”

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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