British Columbia·Photos

Smoke but no fire: North Shore practises wildfire response and evacuations ahead of summer

The North Shore Emergency Management is simulating a wildfire and conducting a mock evacuation to improve its response in an exercise called Operation Dry Lightning.  

Operation Dry Lightning includes mock evacuations and a smoke machine

Helicopters and emergency response crews will be out in West Vancouver and North Vancouver this week, practising what to do in the case of a wildfire. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Where there's smoke, there's usually fire — but not this week on Vancouver's North Shore.

The North Shore Emergency Management is simulating a wildfire and conducting a mock evacuation to improve its response in an exercise called Operation Dry Lightning.  

"Historically, the North Shore has not seen frequent large fires," said Fiona Dercole, director of the emergency response agency.

"But the climate is changing and we're seeing longer, warmer, drier summers. We're concerned the fire risk will increase over time."

Fiona Dercole, director of the emergency response agency, reassured Vancouverites not to worry if they see smoke and helicopters out on Thursday - it's just a drill. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The mock evacuation runs on Tuesday near Cypress Falls in West Vancouver and Kilmer Creek in North Vancouver.

Crews of uniformed police officers and bylaw officers are knocking door-to-door on about 600 homes, letting residents know what the procedure would be if it was a real fire.

The North Shore hasn't had a lot of large wildfires fires but crews are preparing for that to change. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"People will not be asked to actually evacuate today, we'll just be giving them information about emergency preparedness," Dercole told CBC's The Early Edition.

The two neighbourhoods were chosen for the drill because of how close they are to the forest.

Crews practise the drills at Cypress Falls Park in West Vancouver, an area chosen for it's proximity to both forest and homes. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Thursday, crews will be out with a smoke machine, helicopters and emergency response vehicles to practise suppressing a wildfire.

"There's several agencies that would come together if it was a real wildfire," Dercole said.

"So, we're going to practice interagency co-operation as well."

A blaze near Horseshoe Bay burning last summer. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

She pointed to the wildfire near Horseshoe Bay last summer, which grew to three hectares and took four days to put out, as one example of the learning that comes from hands-on experience.

The drill practises interagency co-operation and communication as well as wildfire suppression. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We're using some of the lessons learned around communication —  air-to-ground communication between the helicopter and the crews on the ground," she said.

Operation Dry Lightning runs April 30 and May 2.

With files from The Early Edition

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