A quick-moving fire erupted in the woods above Heritage Park on Aug. 3, forcing nearby residents to evacuate.
Reports of smoke came in at around 10:40 a.m., said Assistant Fire Chief Nick Rychkun, who attended with the first responding crews in the area.
He said support helicopters from Coastal Wildfire Service (CWS) were immediately called because of the amount of smoke.
“Smoke was pouring through the middle of the park,” Rychkun said. “The issue we had was trying to locate it.”
Firefighters from three crews advanced on the trails to locate the fire and determine the best access point, Rychkun said. Fifteen minutes later and at least a half-mile up the park’s trails, they found it.
A total of 66 residents on Tooley Place were evacuated with the support of the Mission RCMP, after the wind picked up and caused the fire to spread rapidly up the mountainside before the helicopter arrived.
“There were some concerns at that time,” Rychkun said. “It doubled or tripled in size probably within five minutes.”
The City of Mission set up an emergency operation centre (EOC) just after 12:30 p.m., and evacuated residents were directed towards the Mission Leisure Centre.
The fire’s radius reached almost a hectare in size at its height, according to the city.
Nearly all Mission fire crews were dispatched to the fire, approximately 35 to 40 members. A crew from the Maple Ridge was also called in, along with staff from the forestry department for consultation.
The support of the CWS helicopters, armed with thousand-plus-gallon buckets of water, was “immensely helpful,” Rychkun said.
Residents around the city watched and posted to social media as the helicopters scooped up buckets from the Fraser River to dump on the smoking forests. Coun. Jag Gill and Coun. Mark Davies continually provided updates to Missionites regarding the fire’s progression.
The blaze was determined to be under control just before 1 p.m., after emergency crews were able to set up a perimeter, Rychkun said.
The evacuation order was then downgraded to an alert, and displaced residents were allowed to return home just after 2:30 p.m.
Firefighters remained on scene until 6 p.m., monitoring for hotspots, Rychkun said.
The park will remain closed until further notice as the source of the fire is investigated. The public are being told to stay clear of the area, including the use of drones.
There have been at least six “substantial” fires – between 200 to 300 square feet – at Heritage Park over the last month, Rychkun said. The most recent was on Aug. 2.
“We’re not actively investigating ourselves, but the RCMP are much more interested,” he said. “It’s a bit abnormal that we’ve had this many, but looking at the weather conditions and what’s going on in the province, it’s a no brainer.
“We’ve had 50 days with no rain, conditions are prime for fires.”
The cause of the fire is not currently viewed as suspicious, and there are no known injuries, according to Cpl. Jason Raaflaub, media officer with the Mission RCMP.