Bomber crews with the B.C. Wildfire Service tackling Kaleden’s blaze Tuesday afternoon were successful knocking the blaze down to a smouldering ground fire within a day. Mark Brett/Western News

Firefighters in critical hour to keep Kaleden blaze at bay before sundown

The fire has been declared 100 per cent contained by the community’s fire chief

UPDATE: 3:55 p.m.

In a critical hour, firefighters have their “fingers crossed” that they can keep the Kaleden wildfire down until nighttime conditions make combatting the fire easier.

Still at 6.5 hectares, acting Fire Chief Denis Gaudry said the fire is “under control,” having declared the wildfire 100 per cent contained at around noon.

“We’re just methodically working and any hot spots we find, we’re putting out and keeping our fingers crossed that there’s nothing hidden and we can get through the afternoon,” Gaudry said, adding that as the sun goes down, so too does the temperature, while the humidity goes up, aiding fire crews in their fight.

“We’re right sort of at the critical time period. It was about this time yesterday that the fire started. So, the next hour or so, we get through it without any events, and I’m hopeful that that’s going to be the case, then we should be in good shape,” Gaudry added.

“But nothing’s for certain.”

It’s still unclear how many buildings have been affected by the fire, with an evacuation notice only lifted at noon on Tuesday.

FortisBC is reportedly in the community to replace burnt power lines and poles to restore power to those who may have lost it.

Gaudry said it’s still anyone’s guess when the fire will be declared fully extinguished, but adds that they’ll likely be out for at least a couple more days.

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Update: 12:52 p.m

Residents of 18 properties under evacuation orders are once again allowed back into their homes, though 186 properties in Kaleden remain under evacuation alert as crews continue to battle a nearby wildfire.

Currently, 234 people have registered with emergency social services from the Kaleden area, according to a release from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

Related: At least one house fully engulfed in Kaleden wildfire

Crews are still working on mop-up in the fire, still pegged at around 6.5 hectares in size, according to acting Fire Chief Denis Gaudry.

“The fire is being held. What being held means, we think we have enough resources on it that the fire will not spread beyond where it is right now, subject to something unforeseen like a strong wind event or an unfound spot fire that we haven’t picked up, yet,” Gaudry said.

“The crews are doing mop-up from the perimeter end, as they’re finding hot spots, they’re identifying them and putting them out, and they’ll be doing that all day.”

Gaudry added that fire crews won’t be working on the fire from the air at this point.

While at least one home was burned, along with an outbuilding, Gaudry said the community is “very, very lucky” that the fire didn’t cause more damage.

“It’s a very emotional time for us, too,” he said. “The crews, in my estimation, worked really hard for 600 homes. That includes the aircraft, the air tankers and the ground crews.”

He said crews were on the fire quickly, adding that there was great potential for the fire to have spread further with dry conditions and a bit of wind.

According to the RDOS, residents under evacuation alert should stay at their properties, but be prepared to evacuate if required.

A complete list of properties under evacuation alert can be found on the RDOS website.

When under an evacuation alert, people are advised to gather essential items, including valuable papers, medications, eyeglasses, keepsakes and immediate care needs and have them ready to depart.

Pets and livestock should be kept in a safe area and disabled persons and children should be prepared to leave.

Residents should ensure access to transportation. Those who need assistance can call 250-492-0237.

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Original: 11:43 a.m.

After a blanket evacuation for a large area of the community, much of it voluntary, Kaleden’s fire chief says some people were allowed to go back to their homes late Tuesday night, after a 6.5-hectare fire threatened dozens of properties in the community.

Acting Fire Chief Denis Gaudry said the fire is “being held” by fire crews, who have managed to keep the fire from spreading, but he adds that the issue is still an issue of spotty fires.

Eighteen homes are still under evacuation order, with 165 homes on evacuation alert, meaning they can go home with the knowledge that they may have to leave at any point.

“There was a voluntary thing, so we sort of cleared the area out, did what we call a tactical evacuation, and then refined it … once we got a little bit of a handle on the fire, and then refined the order area,” Gaudry said.

At least one home and an outbuilding — a shed or that type of structure — have been burned, and Gaudry said he’d heard of other buildings affected. However, he added that he hasn’t seen any other buildings burned beyond the two known and that all reports of that nature are still very preliminary.

The B.C. Wildfire Service and Gaudry are both calling the fire a Rank 1 fire — a smouldering ground fire — but fire crews are wary of the situation with the sun rising and humidity dropping.

“So, the sun’s been on it, so as the temperatures rise during the day and the humidity goes down ,we expect some of the areas that are smouldering right now to act up a little bit,” Gaudry said.

“The problem of the fire is it’s spotting, so it’s not like a wall of fire, it’s brands that are picked up and then up to 300 metres they travel and then drop down and if there’s something that was dry there, it could catch fire.”

That means a small fire hundreds of metres away from the main burn could ignite from a small ember, especially with dry conditions in the valley. Gaudry said crews need to keep a close eye on the area to ensure they get each little fire before it grows.

“It’s trying to locate all of those little fires and make sure that they’re out, and there could be hundreds of them,” he said.

“But the crews are doing a really good job; the fire looks good.”

The B.C. Wildfire Service says crews are working on mop-up and while 26 firefighters were on the scene overnight, seven from the provincial service are working on it during the day, with local crews back on in full force.

That’s largely because the fire is in local jurisdiction and, according to Tracy Wynnyk with B.C. Wildfire Service communications, the provincial service is “not equipped to fight structural fires.”

“The B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters are currently protecting basically any unaffected structures in the area of the land around the perimeter of the fire,” Wynnyk said.

With temperatures expected to rise to the high-30s over the weekend, Gaudry said there’s some worry that that could exacerbate the situation, especially if wind gets involved.

“We’re in extreme fire danger,” he said, referring to the region currently at the highest alert level for wildfires. “We’re trying to secure the perimeter of it, and those spots as best we can to make sure nothing happens this afternoon.

“But you can never say 100 per cent, so might be something hidden.”