Early support from a pair of air tankers and bird dog plane from the Penticton BC Wildfire Services base helped American crews in the early stages of a fast-spreading Washington State wildfire Wednesday.
At one point the Swanson Mill Fire, burning about 20 kilometres south of the Osoyoos border, was threatening about 25 structures and evacuation notices were in place.
The fire was reported to be nearly contained early Wednesday evening and the evacuation notices were lifted. One outbuilding was destroyed.
“It’s really helpful to get any air support an attack for a fire that’s growing and spreading because that helps to contain that fire line a lot quicker,” said Isabelle Hoygaard, Public Information Officer for the Swanson Mill fire incident management team. “Obviously we’re always going to try and get hand crews and dozers in there but in situations like this where you have some pretty rugged, rocky terrain up here it might not have been safe to have crews be in those areas. The heavy tankers obviously dropping retardant had a strong impact on the containment of that fire.
“I know we were sending fire crews up there (Canada) earlier and inter-country co-operation is probably going to get bigger in the future.”
The fire reportedly started just before 2 p.m. Wednesday and initial response included a total of nine aircraft including the two from B.C., along with ground crews and equipment.
In addition to the containment zone, the blaze destroyed about 101.5 hectares (350 acres) with wind and topography pushing it through sagebrush, bunchgrass and Ponderosa pines.
Early afternoon Thursday Hoygaard said hot spots remained throughout the fire’s footprint.
“Crews are working on establishing containment around the fire and around structures using hand crews and wildland fire engines,” she said at the time.
At this stage, the cause of the fire remains under investigation and at one point Wednesday smoke from the fire could be seen from as far away as Osoyoos.
In this case the exchange program between the two countries for fighting wildfires is managed under the Northwest Compact Operating Plan which involves the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan along with the Yukon and Northwest Territories and the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.
In this case according to a B.C. Wildfire Services spokesperson, the request was made by Washington State and it was determined the Penticton aircraft were available and dispatched to the fire. Costs are paid for by the ordering agency.
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