Skip to content

See smoke? Here’s how to help crews when you report a wildfire from a B.C. expert

Err on the side of caution, advises B.C. Wildfire Service
John Erickson noted that the forest fuels are exceptionally dry this year. (John Erickson/Special to the News)

A local wildland firefighter shared tips for making an accurate smoke report.

With wildfires blazing all across the province, a haze has been blanketing Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows at times. Reports of smoke smells, or seeing smoke have also been coming in through social media. However, John Erickson, firefighter with the BC Wildfire Service, shared some timely tips for the public to not confuse far away smoke with that coming from a fire nearby.

In a Facebook post, Erickson shared things the public needs to do when they make a smoke report, to ensure that the firefighters have accurate information.

He said, “When you make a smoke report, we jump in our trucks and head for the smoke. Your report sets a huge web of action in motion. A complete, accurate initial report helps your firefighters protect you.”

The former Maple Ridge Secondary graduate who has been been across the Cariboo fighting fires and now is in Slocan Valley, listed five points for the public to keep in mind:

  • Study: Erickson pointed out that when onlookers see smoke, they should watch the smoke plume for more than a minute, study its movement and colour. Smoke plumes tend to rise vertically, have a grayish, darker color than water vapor clouds and rise continuously from one ground location, he said.
  • Stay: He urged the public to stay where they are, offer to give the dispatcher their name, phone number, and exact location and to stay put. “Be willing to wait for an emergency responder to make contact with you and see what you are seeing. Please don’t just drive away after making your report. Dozens of firefighters are on their way to you and they need you to point the smoke out to them,” he wrote.
  • Monitor: Once the smoke is reported, people need to continue watching the plume while waiting for responders. Make note of any changes in the plume characteristics. Is it getting bigger or smaller? Has the color of the smoke changed? Is it emanating from the same location, or does it seem detached and behaving more like a cloud?
  • Guide: At times, he said that the location from where the public has called in about the smoke is difficult to find, in such cases, he pointed out that it would be helpful if people drive out to the entrance and guide the firefighters to their vantage to look at the smoke. “Tell the dispatcher what kind of car you are in for easy identification,” he wrote.
  • Investigate: Erickson also said that people need to check and find the origin of the smoke if they smell it. Making note of wind direction to see if the smoke or haze is from a distant fire blowing in the town or a fire nearby, is helpful. “Try to remember the difference between the strong odor a campfire nearby puts out, and the diffused scent of smoke coming from distant fires. Distant fire smoke tends to appear as a haze blanketing the landscape, or appears as diffused clouds of smog with no origin from the ground,” added Erickson.

The local firefighter also said that the the forest fuels are exceptionally dry this year and so spreading the message about how to identify smoke is very important. He also added that the BC Wildfire Service always encourages people to err on the side of caution and call it in if they think what they smell or see is the “real deal”.

To report a wildfire, call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on a cell.

Have a story tip? Email:
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Priyanka Ketkar

About the Author: Priyanka Ketkar

Priyanka Ketkar has been a journalist since 2011 with extensive experience in community-driven news writing, feature writing, and editing.
Read more