Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations - Wildfire Management Branch
The Coastal Fire Centre is one of six regional wildland fire centres operated by the B.C. Forest Service's Wildfire Management Branch. Located in Parksville on Vancouver Island, is the Regional Wildfire Coordination Centre for fire dispatch, operations and administration for wildland fire fighting in south coastal B.C., the province’s most heavily populated area.
The Coastal Fire Centre covers all the area west of the height of land on the Coast Mountain range from the U.S./Canada border at Manning Park to the northern border of South Tweedsmuir Park, the lower mainland, the Sunshine Coast, all of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and Haida Gwaii. This area encompasses two Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations regions: the South Coast Region and West Coast Region.
This area covers about 12.8 million hectares of land with extremely varied topography. Where the Pacific Ocean reaches the continent it meets a chain of islands running from north to south, with soaring mountains, inland plateaus and lowland valleys. Some of these islands are nestled in fiords carved in the Coastal Mountains, which rise more than 2000 metres above sea level.
Much of the Coastal Fire Centre terrain is steep and rugged with thick brush and large timber and large bodies of water which provide logistical challenges to resource movements. Transportation often involves ferries, barges, commercial and contracted aircraft, as well as resource road use. Aircraft are used extensively to get crews to inaccessible areas quickly; crews often must exit the helicopters while hovering, and may need to build helipads for incoming resources.
Six microclimates within the Coastal Fire Centre have vastly differing fuel types and fire danger during the summer. Coastal fuels typically contain thick brush and are rich with very large and valuable trees consisting of coastal Western Red Cedar, coastal Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Western and Mountain Hemlock. However, some coastal forests are dry and contain Garry Oak, Lodgepole Pine, and White Pine. Two invasive species cause fire behaviour and control concerns: broom and gorse. Three fire zones within the Fire Centre contain forest health issues relating to Mountain Pine Beetle; one of the significant areas of concern is the steep slopes of Manning Provincial Park. The duff layer of the forest (the organic layer on top of the soil) on the coast may be much thicker than elsewhere in the province.
Large power grids, major railway lines, parks and ecologically sensitive areas, endangered species habitat, a high volume of federal, provincial and private campgrounds, high density housing in rural areas and world destination commercial recreation facilities all pose special challenges.
The Coastal Fire Centre contains over 75% of the population of B.C. and has the third largest metropolitan area in Canada. This results in a high potential for interface fires affecting homes, cabins, watersheds, communication towers, transmission lines, roads and other infrastructure. The fire centre interacts with approximately 185 Fire Departments, which necessitates vigorous cross-training and interactions during interface fire response. Of the 28 Regional Districts in B.C., 12 are fully within the Coastal Fire Centre, with four more that are shared with other fire centres. Four Emergency Management B.C. regions overlap the Coastal Fire Centre boundaries, and staff are requested to assist the government directly or logistically for other emergencies such as floods, landslides, avian flu outbreaks and Search and Rescue missions.