Metro Vancouver fire departments prepare for urban wildfires

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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"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. 

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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.