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British Columbia B.C.’s Shambhala festival continues after organizers retract cancellation over wildfire fears

A woman takes in the smoke blanketing Mt. Rundle from a forest fire in Kootenay National park as she stands on a dock on the Vermillion lakes near Banff, Alta. Sunday July 15, 2017. The Regional District of Central Kootenay issued an evacuation alert on Saturday, Aug. 12 after the BC Wildfire Service reported that flames had crossed the Salmo River and were heading toward the Shambhala festival.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A music festival in southern British Columbia caused much confusion on the weekend after organizers first cancelled it out of fears of a nearby wildfire, and then cancelled their cancellation.

The Shambhala Music Festival took place at Salmo, B.C., about nine kilometres north of a 337-hectare wildfire.

On Saturday morning, the Regional District of Central Kootenay issued an evacuation alert after the BC Wildfire Service reported that flames had crossed the Salmo River and were heading toward the festival.

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Shortly after, festival organizers announced an early closing on Saturday afternoon, saying that although the fire wouldn't be an immediate threat to the attendees, people should leave the site on Sunday morning.

When Melissa Pipes got word the final show, which was scheduled Sunday night, would be cancelled, she decided to leave. But after a 30-minute drive, she heard it was back on, so she drove back to the event.

"It was a bit confusing and we weren't sure who to believe about it all," Ms. Pipes said.

Samantha Hillman, another festival-goer from the Vancouver area, chose to stay at the scene, but the "back-and-forth" rumours about the return of the show made her frustrated.

The official word that the festival would continue didn't come from organizers until early afternoon on Sunday.

"We have damp, cool weather that has downgraded the threat of the fire moving closer to the Salmo River Ranch property," the festival's organizers said on their website.

They said the decision followed hours of meetings on Sunday morning with the Regional District of Central Kootenay and other local governments.

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Fire officials said the blaze received 1.2 millimetres of precipitation in the morning.

"Contingency guard lines have been established around this fire and it is currently 15 per cent contained," said Ryan Turcot, an information officer with the BC Wildfire Service.

Ms. Hillman noted that although the nearby wildfire is still a concern, she figured she'd be safe.

"It's always a concern in the back of my mind," she said. "I also trust that the officials who met with the festival organizers wouldn't have said it was okay to continue if they thought there was any immediate danger."

Established in 1998, this year marks the 20th anniversary of this well-known electronic music event in B.C. Around 15,000 to 20,000 people, including festival volunteers, were expected to participate this year.

Ms. Pipes said she was excited to be back, and she understood why the organizers made the decision to cancel. "I feel for the organizers trying to keep everyone safe and informed; it must be difficult."

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With files from The Canadian Press

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