A wildfire out of control near East Gate is raising concerns — and some eyebrows — in the valley.
As of Monday, Aug. 2 BC Wildfire was measuring the blaze at 8,150 hectares — equal to 81.5 square kilometres.
A release from the wildfire service indicated Highway 3 is at risk.
“The fire is within close proximity of the highway, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is continuing to assess Highway 3 for risks to public safety.”
Last week Manning Park was breached in one area, and there are partial park closures.
On Saturday, July 31, 139 properties in East Gate were placed under evacuation order. The following day 225 recreation sites at Kennedy Lake were put on evacuation alert.
“This is a big fire (that has had) very little support on it. There has been very little air support on this fire, if any,” said Bob Coyne, Area H representative for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS), in an interview Sunday.
“This is almost triple the size of the fire we had in 2017 (near Princeton),” he said. “I don’t believe BC Wildfire learned anything from 2017… Everyone is at their wits’ end.”
The fire was discovered July 23 and originally measured at 45 hectares. It grew steadily, sometimes doubling in size in one 24-hour period.
Information updates from BC Wildfire during this time indicated the fire was being actioned by heavy equipment (used to create fire guards), structural protection crews, and incident commanders.
Sunday a spokesperson for the Kamloops Fire Centre said six aircraft were then assigned to the fire. “Previously they were bucketing, but the smoke was too thick,” said Kyla Fraser.
Michael Young, with the East Gate Fire Protection Association, has been dealing with the fire since it first sparked, along with members Roger Bean, Mike Mayers, and Phil Roque. He is one of a handful of local volunteers to stay behind when the evacuation order was issued.
He told The Spotlight it’s no surprise the fire mushroomed.
“There’s an awful lot of fuel out there, a lot of fuel, and high temperatures and low relative humidity. With all those things, no I don’t think it was any surprise to anyone.”
Young said the structural protection crews from BC Wildfire have been working together with local efforts, to keep properties watered and retain moisture in the air.
Crews from Weyerhaeuser Mill in Princeton are reporting as well, to BC Wildfire, and working each day to create guards.
Young said he’s not prepared to criticize the provincial service. “We have worked incredibly well with them, and they’ve worked very well with us,” he said.
When asked about actual efforts to extinguish the blaze he said: “Have they had hoses on the fire? Have they had any bombing or anything? No…Would I like to see some bombers on? Damn right I would. But it’s not my call and it’s not my area of expertise.”
He noted bombers are only effective if given a specific target, and they need visibility to fly, which is very limited in the East Gate area. Also, he acknowledged the limited resources across the province.
Young was quick to applaud the contributions of Weyerhaeuser crews.
“When Weyerhaeuser says they are involved in the community they not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. They’ve been working that fire…They’ve been the front line of defense in this entire effort.”
He also had praise for the Sunshine Valley Fire Department, which has been providing daily suppport.
Coyne agreed that Weyerhaeuser’s contribution has been invaluable.
“There needs to be huge kudos shouted out to our local firefighters, equipment operators, and the management and staff at Weyerhaeuser that has gone way and the hell above and beyond what any corporation would be required to do.”
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