Vancouver park rangers focus on fire risk as hot, dry weather ramps up

Park Rangers in Vancouver are always on the lookout for people smoking at the beach or lighting bonfires, but that vigilance is amplified when the city is blasted with a heat wave.

'We are checking in to make sure it's absolutely zero tolerance on any type of flame at all'

Vancouver park rangers are on patrol, making sure people aren't doing anything to risk sparking a fire. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Mike MacIntosh and Daniel Wong, casually wander up to a group of people preparing lunch on Vancouver's Third Beach.

"Hello there. We're park rangers," Wong says to a woman in her bathing suit standing next to a red propane stove.

The woman immediately knows why they're there.

"Oh we're not allowed to have this?" she asks, indicating toward the stove.

"Yeah, unfortunately there's no propane, stoves, anything like that on sandy beaches," Wong explains. 

The lunch has been interrupted, but MacIntosh tells the group they can go up above the beach and — within a strict set of rules — continue to cook in the other part of the park.

The rangers are on high alert for anything that could spark a wildfire. On Thursday, with temperatures in the 30s, they were posting warning signs around the park to remind park and beach users of the risk.

Vancouver park ranger Daniel Wong posts a sign warning of the fire danger at Third Beach on Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

MacIntosh and Wong will walk about 10 kilometres a day patrolling Stanley Park and Third Beach. The beach is a little farther out of the way, compared to many of Vancouver's other beaches, and people will sometimes try to get away with banned activity, like bonfires.

"Beach fires, people will have them and attempt to put them out. They'll often bury them in sand, but they often won't go out, and the areas where that sand is covered become real hot spots," said MacIntosh.

The rangers stopped by a spot where fire crews were called to Wednesday night to douse a bonfire. They sifted through the sand and turned over the remains to make sure there were no embers.

Daniel Wong and Mike MacIntosh sift through the sand and burned wood left after an illegal bonfire the night before. The rangers say sand can insulate embers, keeping them red hot long after someone thinks they extinguished the fire. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But for MacIntosh, who has spent years working in Stanley Park, it's the risk of fire in the wooded area that worries him.

"As far as fires in Stanley Park at the present time, the forest of course — that's job one. We need to be on the lookout for any type of event in the forested areas," he said.

The ranger said firefighters have been dispatched to Stanley Park several times already this year to extinguish brush fires. The fires can be challenging to access, and crews will often have to run hundreds of metres of hose to get to remote spots.

Stanley Park is a huge draw for tourists visiting Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

According to MacIntosh, the brush fires are often started by human activity, and people living in the park are frequently to blame.

"Homelessness is always a concern in our parks and we are attempting to remove encampments when we're able to do so," said MacIntosh.

"We are checking in to make sure it's absolutely zero tolerance on any type of flame at all. We have to remember that Stanley Park itself, it is an icon. It's a cultural symbol to this area. It's an incredibly important place," he said.

Mike MacIntosh retired several years ago, but he returned to work as a park ranger in Stanley Park, which he cares deeply about. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Until the weather cools off in the region, MacIntosh, Wong and the other rangers in parks across the city are going to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to illegal fires, people smoking in parks, charcoal barbecues, and cooking that doesn't follow the letter of the law.


Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker