In spite of winds that kicked up over the weekend, a wildfire that broke out on the west side of Maple Mountain last Wednesday afternoon remains contained and has not grown from an estimated 5.5 hectares in size.
Cowichan Valley residents got a wake-up call last Wednesday when initial reports from the scene were that spot fires and heavy smoke were showing in the recreational area located just outside Crofton.
“The fire is located approximately one km east of the Municipal Forest Reserve parking lot on Osborne Bay Road,”North Cowichan spokesperson Natasha Horsman said. “Multiple fire departments and the BC Wildfire Service are responding.”
A crew from the Maple Bay firehall was the first to arrive. Mutual aid calls quickly followed for crews from Crofton, Chemainus, Duncan, Sahtlam, North Cowichan’s South End hall and Cowichan Bay as well as a crew from Lantzville and the BC Wildfire Service that provided a ground crew and helicopters and airplanes.
Maple Mountain is in the North Cowichan Municipal Forest Reserve, and the municipality also brought in water trucks and a backhoe as well as firefighting equipment to deal with the flames.
As smoke plumed and ash from the blaze fell as far away as Maple Bay, it wasn’t too long before Osborne Bay Road between Herd Road and Chilco Road was closed, buses rerouted and police began going door-to-door along Osborne Bay Road advising residents they were on evacuation alert, meaning they needed to be ready to leave their homes within 30 minutes should the alert change to an order.
By Wednesday evening, the road had been re-opened but residents were still on notice.
On Thursday afternoon, the fire was estimated at roughly 5.5 hectares.
“Fire crews and BC Wildfire Service report making good progress today and the wildfire appears to be largely contained at this time,” an afternoon update from the Municipality of North Cowichan said.
Overnight, a 50-foot by 50-foot area had sparked up at 3:15 a.m. but crews were able to douse the flames. Other areas of the fire continued to “smoulder and erupt sporadically,” according to the update.
Area farmer Jennifer Woike spent Wednesday night moving horses and even a donkey to the relative safety of her property. She and her husband Ian Woike were also called upon to deliver diesel to firefighters to maintain operation of their generators. The Cowichan Exhibition agreed to provide space for horses that needed to be evacuated.
Meanwhile, all of the trails on Maple Mountain and select trails on neighbouring Mount Richards were closed.
Horsman said said that in the past 30 years, Maple Mountain has only been closed to foot, bike, and horse access a single time, which occurred during an unprecedented heatwave in 2003.
Access to trail heads in other areas of the municipal forest reserve, including most of Mount Richards, Stoney Hill and Mount Tzouhalem, remained open.
The TimberWest forest company closed the gates on all its forest lands on Vancouver Island, and ceased company operations, until the forest fire risk subsides. Island Timberlands also closed all public access to its private forest lands until further notice.
By Friday afternoon heat and high winds were creating problems for fire crews, who had been steadfast in their battle to keep the blaze contained but the diligent crews maintained their progress.
By Saturday afternoon, the evacuation alert was lifted but the work is not over and firefighters remain on the scene, keeping the blaze contained.
On Wednesday morning, Horsman issued a statement saying that “all trails on Maple Mountain remain closed. Fire fighters have been turning away a few people from accessing the trails for the last few days. It’s very important the public continue to give the fire departments space to continue monitoring, mopping up and gathering evidence.”