Evacuation orders issued as 'explosive' B.C. wildfires burn out of control

By Katya Holloway and Scott Neufeld , Vancouver Sun
August 2, 2009
Be the first to post a comment
StoryPhotos ( 2 )Video ( 1 )
More Images The Lillooet fire heading down the mountain towards the town. Huge flames viewed from the other side of the Fraser River as of 9:30 p.m. Sunday night.
Photograph by: Doug Grossler, Special to The Sun

LILLOOET An evacuation order has been issued for 2,300 residents of Lillooet as a 2,650-hectare wildfire continues to burn out of control.

The Mount McLean fire, which has been blazing within one kilometre of the town limits since Thursday, was zero-per-cent contained as of Sunday evening.

Also Sunday night, a new blaze broke out near Seton Portage, a small community just west of Lillooet.

Fire information officer Garry Horley says the wildfires are "explosive," "intense," and "volatile."

"I don't even know how to describe it use any word and you'd be understating it," he said Sunday night.

Lightning in the area continued to start additional fires throughout the day. At the moment, it's unknown what caused the Seton Portage fire, but Portage says it's "incredibly explosive" and spreading uncommonly fast.

A new evacuation order is in place for the west side of the Fraser River, and an evacuation order applies for the northeast shore of Seton Lake.

Firefighters on Sunday focused on building fire guards on the east flank above Lillooet as well as on the west flank. Helicopters have been bucketing water and laying retardant lines. Sixty firefighters and 15 helicopters are currently battling the blaze.

"Tomorrow [Monday] we are hoping it won't be too smoky so we can reassess the situation. We just have to wait and see what it looks like in the morning and plan [our strategy] from there," said Horley. "We are certainly not giving up on this one. Tomorrow is a whole new ballgame."

Meanwhile, a new fire burns 42 kilometres south of Merritt, near the community of Brookmere. An evacuation order for Brookmere residents is in effect. The 1,000-hectare blaze is zero-per-cent contained and extremely vigorous, according to fire officials.

By Sunday evening, the Terrace Mountain fire near Kelowna had grown to 7,000 hectares in size and was 30-per-cent contained, according to fire officials. The fire covers an area roughly two-thirds the size of the City of Vancouver.

"We're just hoping the winds keep calm and we can keep a handle on it," said fire information officer Suzanne von der Porten on Sunday. "We don't have any moisture in the forecast."

A crew of 237 firefighters and 16 helicopters battled the blaze Sunday, with another 70 firefighters joining in on Monday. An evacuation order is in effect.

Hot, dry weather and frequent lightning storms are pushing B.C.'s wildfire response to the breaking point.

On Sunday morning, the Ministry of Forests was monitoring 739 forest fires of various sizes burning in different areas of the province. That number is more than double the 309 fires from a week earlier and far higher than the less than 100 fires burning around B.C. on July 22.

"That number is going up quickly," said Steinbart. "We could see more start in the next couple of days with warmer temperatures in the forecast."

Virtually every region of the province is fighting a forest fire of some size. Around the province there about a dozen fires that are threatening a nearby community or have grown to a troubling size.

Although the province plans ahead for busy fire seasons, the sudden surge of fires this summer has been alarming.

"Certainly we're prepared every year to deal with a regular fire season," said fire information officer Kim Steinbart. "Definitely this one is turning out to be an above average fire season."

Roughly 90 per cent of the 2,100 wildfires in B.C. since April have been sparked by lightning, said Steinbart. The remainder, including at least six on Saturday, were caused by people.

"What is a concern for us is that more people are going out, using recreational areas," she said. "If you're in an area that was hit by lightning that does pose a risk to the safety of the public."

Hot temperatures have swept over many parts of the province and with more lightning expected the stage has been set for more fires burn. In the past two days some rain has fallen in northeastern B.C., but not enough to affect the fire danger, said Steinbart.

"We're hoping for some kind of reprieve in the next few days," she said. "Hopefully we'll get enough rainfall so that we can move a few of our resources to fight other fires."

Related links:

* Live chat from The Sun's fire info centre

* Gallery: B.C. wildfire photos from Sun readers

* Gallery: Mount McLean fire burns out of control

* Send us your fire photos

Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun