Lethbridge river valley grass fire caused by improper disposal of smoking materials

With multiple recent grass fires in the river valley being attributed to the improper disposal of smoking materials over the years, questions are being asked about whether a ban on smoking is needed in the area.

A grass fire on May 14 was caused by the improper disposal of smoking materials, according to the Lethbridge Fire Department.

While a fire ban is currently in place for the river valley, the fire department says attending these preventable blazes can cost tax payers a pretty penny.

“There’s always a cost association whenever our crews get turned out for a fire, especially in a grass fire situation, where a lot of vehicles are needed,” said Jeff Marriott, fire prevention officer for the city.

“So, it is quite expensive to turn our crews for a grass fire.”

The city said it’s are still compiling data on the May 14 fire and are unsure at this time how much money the fire response cost. But, according to the city, the standby rate for a pumper truck is $500 per hour and the average rate for a fire fighter per hour is $58.

“We just hope people would use their better judgement to discard their smoking materials,” Marriott said. “There’s nothing actually in the plans to ban smoking in the river bottom, but we would hope people recognize that it is dry — grass fires can be, and are, started by smoking material.”

Marriott said at this point, figuring out who the smoking materials belong to is a difficult task. Most often, a littering charge is the only outcome in cases like these.

The Helen Schuler Nature Centre, which is located in the river valley, says a ban on smoking could make for a cleaner and safer space.

“Knowing that cigarette butts are almost 50 per cent of the litter we’re finding on our cleanups… gosh,” the centre’s resource development coordinator, Curtis Goodman said.

“That certainly could have a major impact on the litter profile of our community,” Goodman added.

He also pointed to municipalities in Canada which have banned smoking in all of their parks.

“When I look at other jurisdictions, namely the city of Vancouver, who have put in a ban… when I walk through a Vancouver park, I don’t see any cigarette butts,” Goodman said.

Goodman also works with the community cleaning group Coolie Clean Up and said members have picked up thousands of smoking materials during their runs, which he said are also toxic to the surrounding environment.

Fire investigator Adam Saturley said three men were out fishing on the day the flames broke out and called 911. He said if they hadn’t not seen it, the blaze could have been a lot worse.

Saturley said the men will be nominated for a community award to recognize the role they played in helping extinguish the fire.

According to the fire department, the blaze spread to an area of about 1,500 square feet in size and was damaging large trees.

Lethbridge fire fighters and the city are reminding residents that if they plan on visiting the river bottom, to enjoy the walking and biking trails and if they’re smoking while doing so, they must dispose of their smoking materials, such as cigarettes, into a non-combustible container.

City officials are also reminding people to responsibly dispose of their smoking materials while driving.

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