British Columbia

Metro Vancouver fire departments prepare for urban wildfires

Fire departments across the Lower Mainland are preparing for wildfires within city limits as the province braces for what could be another intense season.

Richmond investing in training, equipment after last year's extensive bog fire

Richmond firefighter Bhavani Ryan took part in the training that's been taking place all month. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Crews from Richmond Fire-Rescue have been learning how to strategically set up sprinklers and run pumps to draw water from a portable tank, as part of training to suppress the spread of wildfires that might occur within their jurisdiction.

The department is planning to train every single firefighter to be able to respond to wildfires, and has invested in special trailers that contain everything a crew would need to stop a fire from spreading to homes. 

The trailers, known as interface structure protection units (SPUs), are equipped with a variety of lightweight hoses, pumps and an array of sprinklers that can be deployed anywhere. 

"This is for protecting homes. These sprinkler protection units are setting up a humidity bubble and moisture barrier around the house in the middle of nowhere," explained Richmond Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Gray. 

Richmond Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Gray says following the bog fire in 2018, the department decided to invest in more urban wildland firefighting equipment. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The training and equipment were introduced following last year's bog fire along Westminster Highway and Shell Road, which scorched more than 12 hectares — around the size of 12 sports fields — of a wooded area.

The Richmond Fire Department is training every single firefighter to be able to help in the event of a wildfire within its city limits. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Crews were on scene for 10 days trying to extinguish the fire, which was challenging because the fire was burning under the peat soil, and also because the area was heavily forested. 

"We recognized we needed to make some changes," said Gray.

Port Moody Fire Chief Ron Coulson gives a tour of one of the department's interface structure protection units, a trailer filled with all the equipment crews would need to protect a structure from flames. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Port Moody Fire Department has also been adding to its wildfire fighting inventory. 

It has an ATV-type vehicle that can get gallons of water to places where there isn't access to a fire hydrant. It also has two SPUs. 

The hoses in the trailers are more lightweight than the ones used to fight a house fire. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"The fire events that are happening are becoming more prevalent, part of the climate-change scenario, and we have to be prepared," said Port Moody Fire Chief Ron Coulson. 

The trailers also have an array of sprinklers, which can work from the ground or be mounted on roofs or fences. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, the fire department is planning to station small all-terrain vehicles loaded with gear in and around Stanley Park this summer, to help crews respond quickly before a fire gets out of hand. 

About the Author

Tina Lovgreen

Video Journalist

Tina is a Video Journalist with CBC Vancouver. Send her an email at tina.lovgreen@cbc.ca

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