The “extreme” hazard posed by the tinder-dry conditions has led to the closure of Sumas Mountain Interregional Park.
The increasing possibility that a simple spark or a carelessly thrown cigarette butt could start a wildfire prompted a public meeting last Thursday at which dozens of Sumas Mountain residents discussed the need to close the park in order to prevent a human-caused fire in the nearby forest.
Two days later, officials closed the gate to the park.
Abbotsford assistant fire chief Jeff Adams told The News that a fire could easily be started by a cigarette or the spark from an ATV on Sumas Mountain. He added that the feedback has been good, as most people understand the reasoning behind limiting public access.
Due to the lack of accessibility to the area, fighting a fire so high on Sumas Mountain would be very challenging for crews, said Adams.
“It’s so tinder-dry on that southern face, a wildfire would just take off up the mountain so quickly.”
The park is co-managed by Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD). The western and southern park flanks are within the City of Abbotsford where Metro Vancouver provides regional park services. The eastern portions of Sumas Mountain Interregional Park, including Chadsey Lake, are managed by the FVRD.
The area also contains Crown land, which is where the lower gate is located at the start of the forest service road. The gate is managed by the City of Abbotsford under permit authorization from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, according to the ministry.
Regional park staff will be patrolling the park to inform members of the public of the fire risk.
In Mission, access to the western area of Stave Lake has already been limited, with the road blocked between 10 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The province has declared a level 4 drought through the whole Lower Fraser.
Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said Abbotsford has never seen a dry spell like the one it’s currently in.
“This is the driest three-month period on record for Abbotsford,” he said.
While July averages 43.2 millimetres of rain in Abbotsford, only 3.7 millimetres has fallen so far this month.
Saturday was the hottest July 18 on record, with the high of 33.7 C topping the previous record of 32.6 C set in 1995. Sunday was nearly as hot, with a high of 33.2 C, which failed to beat a record of 34.4 set in 1956.
Temperatures are expected to cool this week to average levels, with highs between 21 and 25 C. But while there’s a slim chance of a little bit of rain on Friday, MacDonald said there is “no real relief in sight” for the ongoing drought that has been declared in the region.
“We’re running a [precipitation] deficit of 140 millimetres over the last three months.”
– with files from Tyler Olsen