British Columbia

Burns Bog blaze: Peat fires 'tricky' to extinguish

Experts say peat fires, like the one burning at Burns Bog, pose a challenge to firefighters because the flames can sink under the dry peat, where they will burn out of sight for days or weeks.

The challenge is to extinguish fire before it moves underground

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire burning at Burns Bog in Delta, B.C., on Sunday, July 3, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The Burns Bog fire burning southeast of Vancouver isn't the first stubborn fire at the scenic conservation area southeast of Vancouver

In 2005, a fire in the bog shrouded the Lower Mainland in smoke for days. That fire took more than a week to put out. Four years later, another fire burned for 11 days before it was extinguished.

Peat fires pose a challenge to firefighters because the flames can sink under the dry peat, where they will burn out of sight for days or weeks.

Right now, the bog fire is an above-the-surface grass fire, according Delta's city manager George Harvie. It started Sunday morning and spread quickly because of the high winds.

By early afternoon, the skies above Delta were thick with smoke. That smoke later drifted north to Vancouver. Harvie said the smoke can continue for a long period of time, but noted that it's not bad enough to issue an air quality advisory.

Fighting bog fire is 'tricky'

Harvie said peat fires are "tricky" to fight because of the spongy terrain. Air tankers and helicopters are dumping water on the fire from the skies.

He said he doesn't know if the underground peat has been ignited. If it has, the fire could burn for a long period of time. But if the blaze is still above ground, it can be contained faster.

One advantage for firefighters battling this blaze is that the water levels are higher than they've been during previous fires, so the peat is not as dry, making it less inclined to ignite.

He also noted that the 2005 Burns Bog fire was made worse because hundreds of discarded tires also ignited and burned.

Burns Bog is one of North America's largest peat bogs. Twelve years ago, four levels of government, including the Corporation of Delta, paid $72 million to acquire most of the 3,000 hectare bog, which is now a conservancy area.

The bog attracts migratory birds and is home to unique plants. Delta Mayor Lois Jackson described it as a "jewel."

"We really want to kick this thing down and save it and look after it," Jackson said.

With files from Canadian Press

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