North Vancouver authorities warn Grade 12 students about COVID-19 and extreme fire risks prior to Grad Sleepout

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      Although schools are preparing for the return of students to classrooms for the new school year during the pandemic, issues and concerns about social activities have already arisen.

      But in addition to the pandemic, local authorities are asking students be careful during an upcoming annual tradition on the North Shore for other reasons as well.

      Every year, incoming Grade 12 students in North Vancouver hold outdoor pre-graduation gatherings and a Grad Sleepout to celebrate the end of summer and the start of their final year in secondary school.

      North Vancouver RCMP state that in some previous years, officers have been called to some of these parties due to excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs, property damage, injuries, or criminal acts in which fellow students or members of the public became victims.

      No major incidents have occurred at these events in recent years, according to North Vancouver RCMP.

      However, current environmental conditions are of particular concern—there's an extreme fire risk, caused by high temperatures and drought conditions this summer. For example, the Vancouver Park Board halted overnight access to Stanley Park as of July 30 due to the risk of fire due to excessively dry conditions. 

      In addition, B.C. experienced one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on rrecord—from April 1 to September 1, the B.C. Wildfire Service responded to 1,562 wildfires that burned over 865,000 hectares and there are over 200 fires currently burning.

      "The forests are tinder dry right now," North Vancouver District Fire Rescue Service Chief Brian Hutchinson stated in a news release. "Under no circumstances should anyone be lighting a fire, whether it’s a campfire or otherwise.”

      In addition, Hutchinson emphasized the potential dangers of anyone smoking.

      “A carelessly discarded cigarette can cause a wildfire that can quickly spread from the forest to a North Van neighbourhood," he stated.

      Although many pandemic health restrictions have been lifted, the ongoing spread of COVID-19—as well as daily high numbers of new cases and increasing hospitalizations in B.C.—remains a concern as well.  

      On August 29, UBC RCMP issued $5,000 in fines for a sprawling fraternity party, attended by hundreds of partygoers, for violating COVID-19 health measures, including lack of masks, exceeding the 50-people maximum for gatherings, and no physical distancing.

      North Vancouver School District Superintendent Mark Pearmain encourages parents and guardians to talk with any of their children who are Grade 12 students about their weekend plans.

      North Vancouver RCMP stated that it will increase patrols at potential party sites (local parks, schools, and secluded locations) during the Labour Day Weekend, and will be enforcing liquor, traffic, and local bylaw violations.

      “We want to encourage everyone to celebrate responsibly, make safe choices, and avoid harmful situations," North Vancouver RCMP Insp. Vaz Kassam stated.