News

Smith Creek Wildfire: Residents to remain out for the night

Area burned out by the Smith Creek Fire near the BC Hydro powerline.  - Barry Gerding/Capital News
Area burned out by the Smith Creek Fire near the BC Hydro powerline.
— image credit: Barry Gerding/Capital News

As public safety is paramount, the Regional Emergency Operations Centre unfortunately advises that no one will be allowed to return to their homes this evening.

All Evacuation Orders and Alerts remain in effect for an estimated 2,500 people living in approximately 1,100 homes.

The Incident Commander has determined that based on an assessment of active fire behaviour and weather conditions, especially this afternoon’s gusty winds, no one will be able to go home this evening.  Public safety is the number one priority.

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As of 4 p.m., firefighters have a solid guard along the eastern side of the fire and are working to complete the same at the south and west sides of the blaze to contain the fire.

There are currently BC Wildfire Management Branch, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and Kelowna fire personnel and three skimmers, five helicopters and several pieces of heavy equipment responding to the fire.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for Smith Creek, Tallus Ridge, Alexandria Way and Shannon Woods. Another 151 residents remain on Evacuation Alert on Lenz Road, including Pinewood Villa Mobile Home Park and from 1898 to 2515 Bartley Road.

The fire is still active and orders and alerts will be rescinded once it is safe to do so.  In total, an estimated 2,500 residents from approximately 1,100 homes are evacuated.

Crews are working hard to return people to their homes as soon as possible. The BC Wildfire Management Branch reports that the Smith Creek Fire is 260 hectares and 30 percent contained.

Read updated posts at cord emergency.ca, facebook.com/CORDEmergency or follow tweets twitter.com/CO_Emerg. The public information line is 250-469-8490.

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While evacuated West Kelowna residents still can’t return home yet, B.C. Wildfire Management Branch officials are feeling more confident today about getting a handle on the Smith Creek Fire.

Randy Burgess, the incident fire commander, said the current status of the fire is typical for day 3 of a major fire that is not advancing at a rapid rate.

“We feel fairly comfortable with where we are at this stage of the fire, but not ready yet to go out on a limb and say when evacuated residents can return home. We will continue to assess that situation,” Burgess said.

Firefighting efforts have been bolstered today and last night by the high humidity and cloud cover conditions. While the wind is still a factor, firefighting efforts were assisted by the wind direction, which had the fire burning back into itself rather than expanding behind the current 260 hectares.

“The fire now is about 30 per cent contained,” Burgess said.

He said the major priorities for Saturday are to build up the containment guard to keep the flames away from building structures and the BC Hydro power line.

“The power line is particularly a major concern for us. When the air tankers first arrived on the scene, that was the first thing they targeted,” said Burgess, noting the fire reached within 100 metres of the power grid, the only BC Hydro line bringing power into West Kelowna and Peachland.

Currently, a hose line is being established along a portion of the hydro line route and heavy machinery is helping develop a fireguard.

“Our concern with the power line right now is where it comes down the hill.  That area is steep and there is still a lot of unburned fire fuel between the fire guard and the power lines. We continue to work to address that situation.”

He said the number 2 priority is the fire’s east flank. “It’s a very rock, steep area and we are trying to get a hose line up there. The firefighting crews are almost half way up since starting out Friday afternoon so they are making good progress,” he said.

The third priority, he added, is to upgrade the fire guard across the highest elevation ridge of the Smith Creek Fire area, continuing to build up a retardant line as the area is inaccessible for heavy machinery to work.

Burgess said the critical desire is to have fireguards at the edge of the fire, as opposed to having unburned tree and ground fuels between a fire guard line and the advancing flames.

“I feel the most comfortable when that fire guard is right up against the flames and we can get fire hoses along the guard to create a wet line. When we get to that point, the level of containment will increase,” he said.

Burgess says the firefighting effort involves about 65 people fighting the fire, assisted by firefighting crews from West Kelowna, and assisted by firefighters from neighbouring Lake Country, Kelowna, Peachland and as far away as Grand Forks.

He said the Kamloops Fire Centre region is equipped to deal with two fires at one time, but with 37 fires currently burning within the region, resources have to be shifted around to meet the highest firefighting priority areas.

“Our day and night operations chiefs are from Vernon and we have crews here from Lytton, Vernon and from the coast,” he said. “We are mobile so we are able to pull people in from other areas as required.”

West Kelowna Fire Chief Wayne Schnitzler said his firefighters are feeling the strain of fighting the third fire in the community this month, but acknowledged the support of other firefighters to help them out.

“We have been dealing with this situation (fires) for awhile now so we have a good level of support built up between the area communities,” Schnitzler said. “But as we get farther into it, our guys are getting tired…and you have to remember that besides this and other fires, we still have to carry out our other normal duties.”

The public is encouraged to go to www.cordemergency.ca for the latest news and updated maps of the Evacuation Order and Evacuation Alert areas. Read updated posts at www.facebook.com/CORDEmergency or follow the tweets at www.twitter.com/CO Emerg. The public can also call the information line at 250-469-8490.

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