Wildfire in southern Interior still ablaze but residents can rest easier

CLINTON — The Canadian Press

Handout photo of a wildfire in the Big Bar Creek area of the British Columbia interior provided on Aug. 22, 2012. (handout/BC Forestry Service)

An aerial assault on a fire in B.C.’s tinder-dry southern Interior helped quell the flames and downgrade an evacuation order Wednesday, but most of the people in the danger zone had already chosen not to leave.

Fred Bressler lives in the evacuation alert zone and said he saw helicopters with buckets flying overhead, but he stayed in his home.

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“I figured, you know, all those people on the fire scene would do their job to get the fire gone and I wouldn’t go,” said Mr. Bressler.

“I have an escape zone where I can go with my truck … We know we could go out the Big Bar Road, because it was completely safe to go that way.”

Mr. Bressler said he hasn’t heard much from his neighbours or those who live in areas more directly threatened by the flames because fire has taken out utilities.

“The power line that goes down to the Big Bar ferry is kaput,” he said. “The fire burned six power lines, so there’s no power going through there and the telephone doesn’t work.”

Concern about road access into the remote region was one of the reasons for the evacuation order, but an official with the regional district said only three families had left and registered at an evacuation centre in Clinton.

The wildfire grew to 400 hectares Wednesday from 100 hectares the day before, but by the end of the day, the weather was co-operating and the fire had not moved towards any structures or homes. The blaze is now about 10-per-cent contained, said Jenny Fremlin, a fire information officer.

Emergency social service operations were “stood down,” said Jason Tomlin, of the Thompson-Nicloa Regional District.

“Everyone can go back home and conduct business as usual, of course keeping in mind they are on alert, so if things do change they will potentially have to leave at a moment’s notice,” said Mr. Tomlin.

The flames burned through two homes in the area. Forty residents and 40 guests of a resort had been ordered to get out.

Norm Dove, of the Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, said guests are still coming to the resort, about 15 kilometres from the fire.

He said despite how the situation appears, it’s a clear day and there’s no sign of a fire.

“It would be good if the media would tone it down,” said Mr. Dove.

“We have friends and relatives that are more concerned about this than we are — and we’re here.”

A local state of emergency was declared in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District as the blaze, believed to have been started by a house fire, threatened about 15 homes near Big Bar.

“It burned up to, and across, the Big Bar Road, creating a spot fire about five hectares in size on the west side of the road,” said Ms. Fremlin.

“Heavy equipment and personnel were able to construct some containment lines in the valley areas [Tuesday] night. There are, however, some steep slopes that have proved challenging to heavy machinery.”

More than 100 fire fighters are assigned to the blaze and tankers and helicopters were dropping water and retardant in hopes of containing the fire further.

Twenty-seven new wildfires have been reported in the Kamloops Fire Centre since Tuesday.

One of them, a grass fire near Vernon, was ignited by a bird, said deputy fire chief Lawrie Skolrood.

Mr. Skolrood said the bird flew into a transmission box and caught fire before falling onto the grass and starting the fire.

Information officer Michaela Swann said a fire was burning in the Okanagan near Oyama, north of Kelowna and has not changed much since Wednesday morning.

The blaze had charred an estimated 3.5 hectares and a crew of 25 was working to contain it, but no homes were believed to be threatened.

“We have requested air tankers in this morning,” said Ms. Swann, describing the aggressive fire that was burning in an area of tinder dry bush.

A second trouble spot was in the Clearwater area, 125 kilometres north of Kamloops, where 10 small fires east of the community were being closely watched.

The latest fire activity in B.C. comes as the province marks a grim anniversary.

On Aug. 22, 2003, the Okanagan Mountain Park fire, which had been burning for several days, roared into the suburbs of Kelowna, destroying 244 homes and forcing 30,000 people to flee before the flames could be brought under control.

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