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Ground crews focus on hotspots, start investigation into Mount Seymour wildfire

Helicopters slated to return earlier this morning were called to new fire starts near Pemberton

The wildfire has been downgraded to "being held." Read the latest.

UPDATE: July 13, 11:00 a.m.

Efforts to knock down the wildfire burning on Mount Seymour have moved to focus on ground operations.

At 6 a.m. Thursday morning, two ground attack crews began work on suppressing the fire that started the evening before. They could move into the area safely, as the main aerial assault from helicopters and water bombers wrapped up at sunset Wednesday.

The ground crews have been identifying hotspots and conducting danger tree assessments, said Brant Arnold-Smith, program manager of security and emergency preparedness with Metro Vancouver.

“What we found is the fire is very deep into the ground, and our crews are using hand tools to dig up some of those hotspots,” he said. “Dangerous tree assessments are done so it’s safe for crews to go in…. Trees that are compromised will be taken down to maintain the safety of the firefighters on site.”

While the hike to, and the area itself, is on steep and treacherous terrain, Arnold-Smith said there have been no injuries so far, but a medic is on standby.

Metro was in the process of ironing out the final details in getting a Talon helicopter to join the effort by late morning on Thursday, as two BC Wildfire Service helicopters slated to return at 9 a.m. were instead called to assist with new wildfire starts near Pemberton.

“They're working on getting [water] bladders and pumping to the site from various water sources,” Arnold-Smith said.

Growth of the wildfire, in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, was “minimal” overnight, he added, and is continuing to respond well to firefighting operations.

Visible smoke from the site appears to be diminishing, according to reports from the ground in North Vancouver.

Arnold-Smith noted that there’s minimal wind in the forecast, so weather is favourable for fighting the blaze.

With plenty of daylight, Thursday is also a good day for investigation work to proceed in finding out what caused the fire to start.

“Crews will have the ability to sift through some of the fire debris to determine if it was caused by lightning or there was a human source of ignition,” Arnold-Smith said.

Given the uptick in wildfires sparking closer to urban areas in the Lower Mainland, Metro Vancouver has upped its coordination efforts to respond as quickly as possible when new ones start.

“Following the Minnekhada Regional Park wildfire last year, Metro Vancouver Regional District identified that there is climate change occurring, fires are more prevalent,” Arnold-Smith said. “As a result, our emergency response teams and watershed protection teams need to be well resourced.”

“Steps were taken in late 2022 and into early 2023, to bolster our bench strength. And we have multiple contracts and agreements with resources from Talon Helicopters, to resource sharing agreements with BC Wildfire Service, strong relationships with North Shore fire departments, and we constantly train, collaborate and communicate prior to fire incidents,” he said.

“We never want to exchange a business card on the scene of a fire.”

Multi-agency responses that cross jurisdictional boundaries, like the Mount Seymour fire, can be quite complex.

“It's really important that our crews and the crews that we work with closely, each know our roles and responsibilities,” Arnold-Smith continued. “Training beforehand allows for a smooth response when the real thing happens.”

A press conference with Metro Vancouver is scheduled for 2 p.m.

UPDATE: July 13, 8:00 a.m.

A steady plume of smoke could be seen rising from the side of Mount Seymour again on Thursday morning.

A ground crew led by Metro Vancouver watershed protection resumed suppression efforts early Thursday, after a wildfire broke out in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve Wednesday evening.

"Today, ground crews are targeting hot spots at the site and ... aerial resources will begin operations later this morning," said Brant Arnold-Smith, program manager of security and emergency preparedness with Metro Vancouver. "The fire is located in a remote area and does not pose a threat to any houses or structures."

He thanked the public for their response, noting that authorities received over 700 reports when the fire began. 

"This event underscores the importance of being vigilant – be mindful around all ignition sources and report any fires to 911," Arnold-Smith said.

After the fire was reported around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, helicopters and water bombers hit the site continuously until 9 p.m.

According to an evening report from Metro Vancouver, the wildfire was responding to suppression efforts and not spreading. While BC Wildfire Service says the blaze is still 0.3 hectares in size, the fire is still classified as being out of control.

A cause is not known yet, but officials said there was lightning in the area on Saturday, raising the possibility that it could have stemmed from natural causes.

UPDATE: July 12, 8:35 p.m.

A wildfire that broke out on Mount Seymour is responding to swift efforts to suppress it, officials say.

After local agencies became aware of the blaze in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, crews responded immediately to the "small" fire around 0.3 hectares in size, said Brant Arnold-Smith, program manager of security and emergency preparedness with Metro Vancouver.

While the fire is still classified as "out of control" by the BC Wildfire Service, Arnold-Smith said, "the fire is being actively suppressed and is responding to suppression efforts."

Helicopters and water bombers that have been steadily hitting the fire throughout the evening will continue until 9 p.m., he added. It took hours for a ground crew to hike in on foot to the "secluded, rough location." The crew of 12 to 15 firefighters will fight the blaze on the ground, and monitor it through the night, Arnold-Smith said.

They have cut a new helipad into the area to allow for easier access when the firefighting effort resumes in the morning but the worst of it appears to be over, he added.

"Based on the fire behaviour, we're confident that the fire is not going to spread," he said. "We're throwing all of our resources at it right now and trying to make as much headway as possible before we lose daylight."

The cause of the wildfire is still unknown and under investigation, Arnold-Smith, however, there was lightning in the area on Saturday, which opens up the possibility it was due to natural causes.

“Lightning can strike in an area and start a smouldering ground fire that is not noticed until days later,” he said.

Halting the spread of the fire was made possible by the tremendous amount of training and preparation that Metro Vancouver and all the partner agencies have put in, Arnold-Smith said.

The wildfire wasn’t large by provincial standards, but the stakes are higher when it comes to fires burning in the North Shore Mountains, he added.

“Any fire of any size is a concern on the North Shore. It’s a concern when it’s in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve and it’s also a concern when it’s in close proximity to our watershed where the region receives its water every day,” he said. “That's something that we take very seriously and that was the reason why you saw such a swift and timely response with multiple resources, especially aerial resources, so that we could suppress this fire and throw all our resources at it in the initial stages.”

Due to the lack of recent precipitation, the fire risk is very high or extreme in many parts of the Lower Mainland, which means everyone has to be hypervigilant in the forest, especially when it comes to cigarettes and other smoking materials, and campfires, which are banned, Arnold-Smith said.

“We urge the public to exercise extreme caution when visiting regional parks or hiking in the outdoors, especially on the North Shore,” he said. “It doesn't take much to spark a wildfire and the consequences can be severe.”

UPDATE: July 12, 6:50 p.m.

Ground crews and aerial support are responding to a wildfire in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve on Mount Seymour.

"Right now, we have four helicopters that are currently bucketing water onto the fire," said Brant Arnold-Smith, program manager of security and emergency preparedness with Metro Vancouver. "Five water bombers are also currently in the area ready to fight the fire, so there is significant aerial support."

"A joint District of North Vancouver and Metro Vancouver watershed protection initial attack crew are on site," he added.

The blaze is within the jurisdiction of District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, but Metro Vancouver is the lead agency on the blaze. BC Wildfire is also assisting in the effort.

ORIGINAL: July 12, 5:15 p.m.

A wildfire is burning in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve on Mount Seymour.

The blaze was discovered at 4:16 p.m. Wednesday afternoon east of the Seymour River, according to BC Wildfire Service.

As of 5:41 p.m., the fire was identified as being out of control and had grown to 0.2 hectares (2,000 square metres) in size.

The fire is within the jurisdiction of District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. However, Metro Vancouver is the lead agency on the blaze, and BC Wildfire is assisting, said Donna MacPherson, fire information officer with Coastal Fire Centre.

"We're responding with fire crews, helicopters other resources en route," she said.

The wildfire is highly visible from Metro Vancouver, but no structures are currently under threat, MacPherson added.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the fire was burning on Mt. Fromme.