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‘Scariest time of year’: Vancouver Island wildfire extinguished on steep terrain

Crews hiked down steep hills in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park to reach the fire
Crews had to hike down a steep pathway called the Rabbity Trail to reach the fire in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, 20 metres up from the waterline of the Saanich Inlet. (Black Press Media file photo)

West Shore fire crews extinguished a brush fire that broke out on the hillside in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park in Highlands Sunday evening.

Crews were called at around 6 p.m. about a brush fire which had broken out near the Rabbity Trail, on the steep hillside overlooking the Saanich Inlet, according to Highlands Fire Chief Dean Ford. Ford said they received several calls, one from people boating in the inlet and others from a couple of different people across the water who saw the fire from Aspen Road off of the Malahat. The fire was roughly “vehicle-sized,” about 20 metres above the waterline when crews first responded.

Since the site was so steep, a vehicle wasn’t able to access the fire. Firefighters from Highlands started hiking down the trail while another group met Langford firefighters at the Goldstream Boathouse Marina and approached from the water in Langford’s marine response boat. Those in the boat arrived first and started to attack the fire.

“It’s quite a dangerous hike down through there … It’s called the Rabbity Trail but you almost can’t see the trail and it goes along cliff edges and things like that. But thankfully, we were able to get to it from both sides.”

Firefighters were able to contain the fire, preventing it from spreading to nearby trees and further up the hill.

“Had it gotten into the hillside, it would have just been impossible to work on this. You can’t even stand there, it’s so steep in there.”

Ford said it was “extremely fortunate” residents spotted the fire and called so quickly. The fire burnt about a 20 by 30 metre square of brush by the time it was extinguished.

The Gowlland Tod fire is one of several wildfires to break out in recent days in Greater Victoria. Crews had been responding to a wildfire that broke out on Saturday in Thetis Lake Regional Park, which has since been extinguished. Crews also responded to a wildfire in East Sooke Park Monday morning, which closed portions of the park, including Coast Trail from Cabin Point to Copper Mine, and the Park Heights Trail from the Interior Trail junction to Coast Trail has been closed until further notice.

Ford said cooler temperatures had helped temper the Gowlland Tod fire slightly, but there are also risks that arise as summer comes to an end.

“That’s always a fear – when we kind of get these cold days is when people start thinking they can start lighting fires. It’s the scariest time of year. The hot and cold days, people get a little sillier.”

There were no clear signs of what caused the fire, but Ford said he suspects it was human caused.

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