Firefighters contain steep flaming hillside

Helicopters were dropping water bucket loads on the Westside fire Tuesday morning. The background terrain offers evidence of the difficult slope issues that firefighters on the ground faced trying to build a  perimeter fireguard to contain the blaze.  - Douglas Farrow/Contributor
Helicopters were dropping water bucket loads on the Westside fire Tuesday morning. The background terrain offers evidence of the difficult slope issues that firefighters on the ground faced trying to build a perimeter fireguard to contain the blaze.
— image credit: Douglas Farrow/Contributor

Firefighters have gained the upper hand on the Bear Creek Fire.

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch announced Wednesday afternoon the fire was totally contained.

It said there was no growth to the fire Tuesday night because there was little wind and that allowed firefighters to make good progress.

By Wednesday afternoon, they had extinguished 15 metres in from the edges of the fire, which covered 75 hectares at one point.

Firefighters were back on the scene snuffing out hot spots in the extinguished area Wednesday, but they warned that if the winds picked up, the fire could re-ignite in places and cause more smoke in the valley.

At the height of the fire fighting effort Tuesday, 550 residents in Traders Cove and visitors to Bear Creek Provincial Park were evacuated from the area. The Sailview Bay area was put on evacuation alert.

But by 6 p.m. Tuesday, the evacuation order was lifted, allowing the displaced residents to head home. By Wednesday afternoon, all evacuation alerts had been lifted.

Early Wednesday, Westside Road was re-open to one-lane alternating traffic because of the continuing efforts by firefighters in the area.

The fire was first reported in a canyon area about 20 kilometres in from Westside Road, above the popular provincial park, late Monday night. Firefighters battling the blaze said the steep terrain proved a challenge in the 40 C fire zone temperatures.

In addition to the ground crews, a B.C. Forest Service plane dropped fire retardant and several helicopters with water buckets were used.

“The heat and terrain were slowing crews down a little but everything is going well,” said Jonas Joe, a crew supervisor with the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch.

He said one of the biggest challenges was rolling debris as crews battled the flames in the remote area.

Derek Williams, the incident commander at the scene, said firefighters were making good progress Tuesday and at the time the fire was about 30 per cent contained.

Within 24 hours, it was announced the fire had been totally contained. It grew to about 75 hectares at its height.

Of the evacuated residents, only 165 registered at the receiving station that was set up in the Lions Community Hall in Westbank.

Two of the them were Jean Champoux and his wife Julie, from Whistler.

They said they were camping in Bear Creek Provincial Park Monday night when they were awoken by people telling them they had to leave the park.

“I thought at first it was just people being rowdy,” said Jean.

He and his wife packed up as much as they could and headed out.

He said as they left, they could see the glow of the fire and it appeared close by.

They stayed at a hotel in Kelowna Monday night before registering at the Emergency Support Services centre in Westbank Tuesday morning.

When the evacuation order was lifted, they were allowed to go back to the park and pick up what they had left behind.

Patrick Lacey, who lives in Traders Cove and works as a part-time park ranger in Bear Creek Provincial Park, also arrived at the ESS centre Tuesday morning to register.

He found himself trapped in the area evacuated by the fire and had to take a back road out that led him over the hills to Crystal Mountain above Glenrosa and out.

In addition to getting his wife and two daughters, aged 13 and two, to a hotel in Kelowna for the night, he also got his 13-year-old to school Tuesday morning for the first day of school.

“It’s been a long night, that’s for sure,” said Lacey.

He said because of past experience, the park staff have a very good plan in place for dealing with evacuations and this time it had gone very smoothly.

No injuries or property damage was reported as a result of the fire, but Dale Bojahra, of the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch, said at one point flames came within 400 metres of houses in the Traders Cove area.

The exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined but fire officials say they believe it was human caused. It started near a series of trails.

During the fire, a state of emergency was declared by the Regional District of Central Okanagan. West Kelowna, Ministry of Forests and Wilsons Landing Fire Services all joined effort to fight the fire.

On Monday night and for most of Tuesday, Westside Road was closed from Sailview Bay in the south to Bear Main forest service road in the north.

Bojahra said on Monday night swirling winds made it difficult to fight the fire because they kept changing direction.


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