It is raining large flakes of ash

Fire ash residue creates a hull of a problem

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VANCOUVER, B.C. July 19, 2015/ Troy Media/ – My brother-in-law left me an interesting message as he left our coast house after a short vacation break last Sunday night: “It is raining large flakes of ash – kind of like snow. They are blowing through the forest and sticking to everything.”

I’ve never seen wildfire ash before. An image formed in my mind of ash falling on cedars. Romantic in an apocalyptic sort of way.

The Tuesday ride up from Vancouver was smoky, but you couldn’t see ash on the highway. There were many cars travelling up-coast driven by purposeful drivers. The Sunshine Coast highway between the BC Ferries’ Langdale terminal and the Earls Cove ferry carves its route just to the south of one of the province’s largest current wildfires – now simply called “the Sechelt Fire.” Its smoke and smell were evident from one ferry to the next.

As I pulled off the paved highway onto our gravel road, the dry summer dust rose up in unusual clouds. Soon fine white particulates were blowing around inside the Mini. It was ash on dust. A lot of it.

The front deck of the house was covered in a fine layer of white ash. You could also see it on the tin roof. I knelt down to look at the forest ground cover and noticed ash all over the salaal and blackberry leaves.

A few screened windows had been left open inside the house, and a fan of white ash had collected in front of each one. Wooden table tops and kitchen counters were dusted with ash. Paranoid (I was a juvenile asthmatic) about small particle pollution and inhalation of ash crud deep into lung tissue (the air quality advisory bulletins on the CBC news focused particularly on avoiding this), I put on a surgical face mask and snapped into clean-up mode with bucket and mop.

Three hours later, victory was declared. A large bottle of Townsite India Pale Ale was drunk on the deck. Rain was forecast for Saturday. Presumably this was all just a transient event. Just before falling asleep, however, I wondered about the boat.

Fibreglass is a pretty resilient material, isn’t it? It should be able to resist a good dusting of fire ash. My residual memory contributed a few facts about gelcoat – the shiny finish on fibreglass. Would ash damage the gelcoat?

The next day I went into town and parked at the marina. I looked out at the several hundred fibreglass boats riding at their mooring slips and registered a great deal of activity. Way more than average. Easily 50 boat owners were pressure washing decks and superstructure in a man-binge of work.

I approached my boat, the Francine 2, with trepidation. Bloody hell – she was covered in dirty grey ash. I turned on a fresh water line and sprayed down the hull. Much of the ash covering sluiced right off into the chuck. But little yellow splotches remained – like pox, all over the hill.

I rooted about in my cabin and found a spray bottle of ‘Greez Off’, sprayed the damn stuff everywhere and poured on the elbow grease. The result was better – but not much. All around me, my boat pals were experiencing similar dilemmas. Their gleaming white hulls now all appeared to be yellow-poxed.

Disillusioned, one by one, we retired home as night fell on the marina.

It poured with rain on Saturday night, and we decided to go fishing on Sunday. My wife and I carried the gear and a box lunch down to the boat past numerous other boat owners, all of whom were still scrubbing away. We got to the boat and witnessed a miracle. The yellow pox marks had disappeared. Rain and ‘Greez Off’ had carried the day.

I grabbed my spray bottle and spread the good news up and down slip F, amongst 10 other skippers. Good news for a change!

Troy Media syndicated columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery.

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