Firefighters hose down the wildfire on Kault Hill on Sunday, Sept. 3. -image credit: Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer

Human activity suspected as the cause of Sunday’s Kault Hill blaze

It was the best sort of wildfire – if there is one – to have in the current climate of extreme danger.

Short-lived.

On Sunday morning fire crews were called out to a fire below the Trans-Canada Highway’s Kault Hill lookout, about 10 kilometres west of Salmon Arm.

BC Wildfire crews, the Salmon Arm Fire Department as well as the Columbia Shuswap Regional District contingent of Tappen, Shuswap and Sunnybrae fire departments responded.

A ground team, combined with air crews that provided a remarkable show for those watching, swooped in and went full-out fighting the fire.

One passerby Sunday morning described the firefighters as “a well-oiled machine. He said: “They should be commended on how quickly they hit it.”

As the ground crews attacked the fire with the help of hoses and trucked-in water, about half a dozen water bombers and a helicopter dropped water on the fire, giving motorists nearly an eye-level view of the pilots’ skilled maneuvers.

The skimmer aircraft made repeated passes across Shuswap Lake to refill, the constant droning sound an unwanted reminder for some residents of the 1998 wildfire that caused evacuation of parts of Salmon Arm.

The highway was initially reduced to single-lane alternating traffic and then closed completely for about an hour between 11 and noon Sunday as fire retardant was dropped on the blaze.

By about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Highway 1 was reopened in both directions, with flaggers keeping traffic moving slowly so as not to hinder firefighters.

One residence at highway level was reported to be on evacuation alert, but that alert never became an evacuation order.

By 1:30 p.m. Sunday, crews were winning, with the Salmon Arm firefighters returning to quarters. Fire chief Brad Shirley described the wildfire as “well in hand.”

At 2 p.m. Sean Coubrough, fire services co-ordinator for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, said crews had been successful in laying down a wet guard between the fire and the highway.

Sunday afternoon the Kamloops Fire Centre reported the Kault Hill fire as approximately two hectares, burning in steep, rocky terrain, with 10 personnel remaining on site as well as one helicopter.

Monday morning, the news continued to be good.

The fire didn’t grow overnight and that morning had been more accurately measured at 0.9 hectares. Eleven personnel, which included firefighters as well as fire investigation staff, were working the fire. It was classed as 100 per cent contained and under control.

By Tuesday afternoon, just three firefighters were left on site, wetting down any hot spots. No flames could be seen.

The fire remains listed as 0.9 hectares and under control, said Jody Lucius, fire information officer, until it is completely out and can be left unattended.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but Lucius confirmed it is suspected to be “person-caused” or caused by human activity, not natural causes such as lightning.

Lucius says “fire-origin-and-cause personnel collect data” and then write a report, which will determine next steps to be taken.

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