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West Kootenay remains ‘relatively stable’ in worst ever B.C. fire season

August 24, 2023 
By John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Aug. 24, 2023, West Kootenay, B.C. – The reality of the 2023 fire season came to the West Kootenay in the last two weeks, as new spot fires regularly popped up and larger ones remained stubbornly burning across the region.

Adding to the misery was wildfire smoke, prompting air quality warnings for days and forcing residents to stay indoors. Smoke also closed the Kelowna and Castlegar airports for several days.

So far, however, the fires burning in the Valley Voice readership area – the Slocan, Arrow Lakes, and North Kootenay Lake Valleys – remain relatively small and away from homes and infrastructure.

But as could be seen in alarming images from Kelowna, Yellowknife, and Hawaii, disaster can strike quickly and with little warning.

On Friday, the government announced a provincial state of emergency, asking residents to cancel non-essential travel to the Central Interior and Southeast of B.C., “to support the needs of wildfire crews, first responders and evacuees.”

“This year, we are facing the worst wildfire season ever in British Columbia. Over the past 24 hours, the situation has evolved rapidly and we are in for an extremely challenging situation in the days ahead,” said Premier David Eby in announcing the state of emergency on Aug. 18. “There are numerous fires across the province threatening communities. Thousands of people are under evacuation orders, and tens of thousands more are on evacuation alert.”

However, as of Monday, the travel restrictions have not targeted any areas specifically in the Kootenays, which officials have described as “relatively stable” compared to the rest of the province. While people could still visit the area, officials were cautioning anyone travelling for recreation purposes to keep aware of fire conditions and listen for changes to emergency orders.

Slightly easing conditions allowed some evacuation orders to be reduced to alerts in the Okanagan over the weekend, though officials said Monday there were still very challenging situations in the Shuswap, Okanagan, and Fraser Canyon areas.

Dozens of fires in region

On Monday, there were 65 fires burning in the Southeast Fire Centre, around half listed as ‘out of control.’ A Southeast Fire Centre media release said so far, they’ve been able to keep on top of the situation.

“Initial attack crews continue to be successful suppressing new fire starts and are playing a vital role in reducing risks posed by wildfire across the region,” states the Aug. 18 release. “Initial attack success also means resources can remain committed to large fires burning in the Southeast.”

Some of the more notable fires in the area include Mount Carpenter, a high-terrain fire burning three kilometres northeast of New Denver. It’s 28 hectares in size, and is listed as ‘under control’ – indicating SEFC believes it will not spread given suppression efforts.

Three fires burning just north of Pass Creek, in the southern Slocan Valley, are being watched closely by residents. The Upper Norns Creek Fire (86 hectares) is listed as ‘out of control,’ while a spot fire on Norns Creek is under control, and a 10-hectare fire on Goose Creek is being held. None of the fires posed a threat to homes or infrastructure at press time.

The largest fires burning in our area remain on the northeast shore of Kootenay Lake, where four large forest fires, from 180 to 800 hectares in size, continue to burn in remote forest.

Other notable fires include a half-hectare fire burning above Winlaw at Trozzo Creek and a seven-hectare burn near Blue Grouse Creek northeast of Burton. Both are listed as ‘being held.’

Officials continue to issue smoke warnings – the soot and smoke choking the area comes from fires burning northwest of Kamloops, the SEFC said. It was forecast to persist well into the week.

Officials again warned residents to be prepared to face a fire emergency, encouraging people to prepare evacuation kits and plan now to stay with friends or family if forced to leave the area. Accommodations are likely to be stretched to the limit as thousands of people find themselves displaced by fires across Western Canada.

The situation eased up slightly over the weekend, and officials were hoping for at least a short reprieve from expected rain on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

“Although the road ahead is still immensely challenging, we are fortunate the weather forecast is more positive for most areas,” said Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston. “Some rain is possible for southern British Columbia in the coming days. Although it won’t be the days of solid rain we really need, it may be enough to allow fire crews to make headway on the fires.”

In total, more than 3,500 firefighters have been deployed on 379 fires across the province, aided by hundreds of municipal fire crews tackling structural fires. The province was also expecting new support from international donors, with fresh crews of firefighters from Mexico and South Africa arriving to support efforts.

–Valley Voice

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